'Big Society' failing millions of the most needy, says new report

By agency reporter
December 9, 2013

Millions of people are being left behind, and the charities that help them are being shut out from David Cameron’s faltering Big Society project, according to a new report published by Civil Exchange on 9 December 2013.

The Big Society Audit 2013 warns that a radical review of Big Society thinking is needed and says that, despite the rhetoric, people with disabilities – eight per cent of the population – will bear 29 per cent of the cuts, with a similar picture for people living in poverty; that 500,000 people are now dependent on food aid; and that only one in five people in the most deprived areas now feel they can trust others, compared to nearly three quarters in the most affluent parts of Britain.

The report also says that funding for charities serving disadvantaged groups has been the most affected since the Coalition came to power, with many now ‘running on empty’ and further cuts due to fall.

The Big Society Audit starkly warns that many public services now lie in the hands of a virtual monopoly of unaccountable ‘mega-corporations,’ despite a Big Society commitment to diversify and make public services more accountable and responsive.

Just four multinationals – Atos, Capita, G4S and Serco – now control £4 billion of government public service contracts, despite revelations in some cases of overcharging, poor performance and an inability to meet obligations.

The Audit also reports a ‘race to the bottom’ on contracts that is leading, for example, to 15-minute home care visits for elderly and disabled people.

However, on a positive note, the Big Society Audit says that there has been significant growth in communities taking control of local amenities with over 100 pubs listed as community assets, 425 community libraries open or due to open and 303 community shops. The level of volunteering has also risen.

Director of Civil Exchange and principal author of the report, Caroline Slocock, commented: “Millions of people, especially those who might need it most, are being excluded from the Big Society, as cuts hits them hardest and trust in others – the social glue that holds the Big Society together – fails to bind disadvantaged communities."

She continued: “It is government’s bias towards the private sector that is killing the idea of the Big Society, while the charities to which people in need turn are left out in the cold. It’s time for politicians to match actions to words. A good start would be to value the not-for-profit experts who have the know how to help them tackle complex and costly social problems and the capacity to deliver public services on a human scale.”

The Big Society Audit calls for a new model for public services that draws on the specific strengths of the voluntary sector and volunteers in working with people, particularly in local communities.

It wants to see more investment in early action, using the knowledge of voluntary groups, to help solve difficult and complex social needs at their root, and increased investment in the social infrastructure that supports disadvantaged groups and communities, ensuring vital voluntary and community groups can thrive.

Bringing the Big Society to business is another priority for the Audit, especially in the delivery of public services, ensuring it operates ethically, pays decent wages and guarantees not to cut costs at the expense of quality.

It also says that work needs to be done to increase public sector understanding of the potential of the voluntary sector with joint working and designing services collaboratively.

The Big Society Audit 2013 reviews what has been happening against key Big Society commitments made by this Government, many of which echo policies under previous governments, and draws on a wide range of research and other sources to present a unique and comprehensive audit.

Civil Exchange is a think tank established to strengthen civil society’s connection to government.

* Civil Exchange: http://www.civilexchange.org.uk

* The full report (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document) can be read and downloaded here: http://www.civilexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/THE-BIG-SOCIE...

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