Maybe it’s time to believe in the Big Society after all

Home Affairs IThe Big Society, a term no longer used by the Tories or anyone else, was all about voluntarism. The idea that, after years of seemingly terminal decline, those Burkean little platoons could be reinvigorated and all sorts of social ills tamed by their hands.

A rotten campaign platform, but also a difficult practical policy; the problem was that many supposedly voluntary organisations were heavily dependent on taxpayer’s money and that chalice, poison or otherwise, was going to have to run dry.

Since Gordon Brown unleashed the public money tsunami in 2001, the state began a mass infiltration of the voluntary sector. Grants were issued, “Partnerships” were established, and before long much of the third sector ceased to be recognisably voluntary or charitable at all. Rates of volunteering fell off a cliff, and many believed that the Coalition’s budget cuts would prove devastating to the sector.


Proportion who have volunteered (Cabinet Office Community Life Survey)

Prominent amongst the naysayers was the New Economics Foundation, a well presented lefty think tank that craves respectability but suffers from the unwanted alias “Not Economics Frankly”. In their report “Surviving Austerity” they argued that reduced public spending and people’s reduced capacity to volunteer would cause the sector to be “savagely reduced.”

The prophesied cuts came to pass, jobs were lost, and some of the more state dependent groups were forced into mergers and winked out of existence. But then something strange happened; the volunteers, the true lifeblood of the sector, started coming out again. Cabinet office figures indicate a renaissance in volunteering, undoing the Labour decline. The increase in volunteering amongst ethnic minorities is even more pronounced. Furthermore the number of people donating to charity has increased to three quarters of the population. As the state gets out society does more.

Maybe it’s time to believe in the Big Society after all.


Proportion who volunteer regularly (Cabinet Office Community Life Survey)

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