The Big Society Debate
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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.
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Chapter 6: Charities, Voluntary Organisations and Non-governmental Organisations in Britain Since 1945

Matthew Hilton


Matthew Hilton 1 Introduction The Big Society is a deeply historical concept. According to one of its chief proponents, Phillip Blond, the author of Red Tory, ‘civil society’ has ‘disappeared’. While the state and the marketplace have continued to thrive, ‘All other sources of independent autonomous power have been crushed. We no longer have, in any effective independent way, local government, churches, trade unions, cooperative societies, publicly funded educational institutions, civic organisations or locally organised groups that operate on the basis of more than single issues’ (Blond 2010a, p. 3). For Blond, this is part of a much deeper malaise in our social fabric such that ‘something is seriously wrong in Britain’. To put it crudely, and Blond certainly does, ‘things were better in the past’ (2010a, p. 2). Blond and Conservative politicians have built upon a narrative of decline prevalent among proponents of the social capital thesis. Most commonly associated with Robert Putnam, the thesis holds that citizens no longer ‘join in’. They no longer attach themselves to the forms of associational life that sustain social bonds, build trust and ultimately strengthen democratic participation (Prochaska, 1988; Putnam, 2000; Prochaska, 2006). Certainly, there is much evidence to support such an account. Membership of the two main political parties has slipped from over 3 million to just under half a million over the past 50 years (Marshall, 2009). Over the same period, membership of the churches fell by around one-third (Matheson and Summerfield, 2001). While trade union membership peaked at over...

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