A New Agenda for Social Welfare?
Edited by Armine Ishkanian and Simon Szreter
Conclusion: The Big Society and Social Policy
David Lewis INTRODUCTION Proponents of the Big Society idea argue that it is about giving people more control over their own lives. There seem to be three main strands. The first is concerned with the promotion of volunteerism and philanthropy, with citizens being encouraged to give up more of their time for free and to set aside more resources to help others. The second is a new emphasis on localism and c ommunity-level empowerment, based on the principle that voluntary and community groups can and should play a more central role in running public services such as sports centres, fire and rescue, and libraries. Finally, the Big Society brings a new and more aggressive approach to public sector reform that seeks to cut red tape and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, including promotion of the ideas of ‘mutualisation’ and floating off parts of the public sector into ‘employee-owned’ John Lewis-style partnerships in the effort to improve efficiency and job satisfaction. The Big Society idea is therefore part of the government’s attempt to continue the reshaping of relationships between citizens, the third sector, the state and the market. As such, and as many of the authors in this volume have explored, the Big Society idea needs to be understood against the context of longstanding historical, ideological and theoretical debates around social policy and the welfare state, both in the UK and elsewhere. Yet the Big Society idea remains nebulous, still evolving and open to multiple interpretations. Significantly, it has been introduced against...
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