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 12: The Big Society and Volunteering: Ambitions and Expectations

Nick Ockenden, Matthew Hill and Joanna Stuart

Subjects: social policy and sociology, comparative social policy


Nick Ockenden, Matthew Hill and Joanna Stuart INTRODUCTION The Big Society has been variously described as ‘the most important innovation in British politics for decades’ (Blond, 2011), a ‘fraud’ (Toynbee, 2011) and a ‘failed concept’ (Miliband, 2011). It has been presented as a broad vision of the kind of society that Prime Minister David Cameron and his associates aspire to create in the UK. Cameron has repeatedly referred to it as his ‘mission in politics’ (Cameron, 2011). Taken at face value, it is expressed through a loosely grouped collection of policies that set out to achieve this vision; through social action, public service reform and community empowerment (ACEVO, 2011). Both the achievement of this vision and the implementation of its policies are connected to volunteering; some directly relate to it, many depend on it for their success, and others, while not being primarily concerned with volunteering, nonetheless have a considerable impact upon it. Volunteering includes a wide range of activities and is defined as being given of someone’s free will, unpaid and of benefit to the wider environment or other people (Home Office, 2005). This can be further categorised into formal volunteering (which takes place within a group, club or organisation) and informal volunteering (which takes place independently). The diversity encompassed within this definition – from the highly formalised and structured to the grassroots and community-based – means that there is almost no part of society untouched by volunteering. Much volunteering falls within the scope of the Big Society, but its vision...

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