A new report from the New Economics Foundation identifies shortcomings in the government’s proposals for implementation of the Big Society.
Ten Big Questions about the Big Society - and ten ways to make the best of it provides an overview of what the government means by the concept and how it hopes to achieve it.
But it also suggests that existing government policies fall short of what is required to do so.
In answer to the question ‘Can everyone participate?’ the nef’s head of social policy Anna Coote said: “The Prime Minister says the Big Society ‘is about enabling and encouraging people to come together to solve their problems’, but there is nothing in the government’s plans to encourage the inclusion of outsiders, to break down barriers created by wealth and privilege, to promote collaboration rather than competition between local organisations, or to prevent those that are already better off and more dominant from flourishing at the expense of others.”
And in response to ‘What is the biggest problem?’, Coote states: “The Big Society idea is strong on empowerment but weak on equality”. She says the importance of everybody having an equal chance in life to fulfill their potential and contribute to society is hugely important, but the Big Society concept is “weak on equality because it is weak on the structural links between economy and society”.
“If the aim is to tackle poverty and inequality, as the Prime Minister maintains, then success depends on how economic as well as social resources are distributed between groups and communities.”
The nef report suggests ten ways to make the best of the Big Society, including ‘Make social justice the main goal’, ‘Build a broader economy’, ‘Redistribute paid and unpaid time’ and ‘Make it part of a Great Transition’.
Citizens ‘will do more’ if asked properly
Separately, a three-year study carried out by academics at the Universities of Manchester and Southampton suggests it is possible to get citizens to do more to create the Big Society.
The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government, tested a range of techniques to persuade people to donate time and money to charities, recycle and participate in online discussions on controversial topics.
The results showed that citizens were willing to change their behaviour and do more to help others, if approached in the right way. A ‘nudge’ from their local council or volunteer group can often stimulate change.
Also, Facebook’s founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg recently met with Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, to discuss how to help build the Big Society using Facebook.
Facebook’s PR agency refused to reveal details about the meeting and referred enquiries to the government. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport failed to respond before deadline.