The Big Society Debate

The Big Society Debate

A New Agenda for Social Welfare?

Edited by Armine Ishkanian and Simon Szreter

The book is divided into two sections, history and policy, which together provide readers with a historically grounded, internationally informed, and multidisciplinary analysis of the Big Society policies. The introduction and conclusion tie the strands together, providing a coherent analysis of the key issues in both sections. Various chapters in this study examine the limitations and consider the challenges involved in translating the ideas of the Big Society agenda into practice.

Chapter 4: Mutual Aid and the Big Society

Daniel Weinbren

Subjects: social policy and sociology, comparative social policy


Daniel Weinbren When the Conservative leader’s Director of Strategy, Steve Hilton, sought an image of the struggle to push back the frontiers of the state he settled upon the 1946 film, My Darling Clementine, as ‘a fantastic description of our values and political approach’ (Brooks, 2009; Hilton, 2010). David Cameron’s inspiration appeared to be from a more conventional source in that his proposal to appoint a ‘neighbourhood army’ and to nourish ‘5000 community organisers’, using the equivalent of a few loaves and fishes, may have had Biblical roots (Conservative Party, 2010). Neither these men nor (according to Stuart Hall) Nick Clegg have indicated interest in drawing on the experiences of previous Conservative-dominated governments’ efforts to empower community leaders (Hall, 2011, p. 15). An important example of this had occurred between the wars when, following the 1911 National Insurance Act, the administration of UK health care was placed in the hands of mutual aid bodies. The resulting tangle of red tape nearly strangled the officially approved voluntary organisations and disillusionment with the voluntary sector was so extensive that the subsequent central state intervention of the 1940s was widely welcomed. Employing a more homely image of the relationship between different forms of provision the architect of the NHS, William Beveridge, who was sympathetic towards the friendly societies, concluded that the 1911 ‘marriage between the state and the voluntary agencies has been followed by complete divorce’ (Beveridge, 1948, p. 83). The reasons for the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship can be placed in...

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