Chapter 7: Charity and Big Society
Richard Fries INTRODUCTION The concept of the Big Society clearly includes charity. One of the questions this raises is, if the Big Society is new where does so old an idea as charity fit into it? Some may say this just confirms that the Big Society is more a repackaging of long-existing social forces than a substantive innovation. But if the Big Society concept really is innovative, albeit incorporating long-established elements of British society, how does charity fit into it? These questions are timely. Though – or perhaps because – charity is longestablished in the texture of British society and economy, it has been undergoing a long period of reform. The Charities Act passed in 2006 was presented as the most fundamental reform of charity for 400 years. And the Act itself provides for a review of its provisions after five years – now under way. So it is timely to ask how charity and Big Society fit the needs of Britain in the twentyfirst century. It is striking that David Cameron hardly mentions charity as such in presenting his vision for the Big Society. To quote his relaunch speech of May 2011 (Cameron, 2011b), the Big Society is ‘all aspects of life that fall outside our dealings with the state, or with the market’. That space is more commonly called the third sector or civil society, terms used by the previous and present governments successively to label the Cabinet Office Unit responsible for state/ sector relations. Charity is certainly in there. Of...
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