Big Society ‘fantasy’ turns into ‘nightmare’

The Big Society was a short-term fantasy that turned into an enduring nightmare for thousands of charities, Unite, the largest union in the country, said this week.

Unite, which has 60,000 members in the Not for Profit sector, said that David Cameron’s pipedream should be investigated immediately by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee.

Unite said there has been a 40 per cent cut of public sector funding to the sector – that’s a £5bn cut – and yet the government has only stumped up £100m in transitional  funds. This equates to a 50-fold short-fall in essential funding at current levels.

Unite’s General Secretary, Len McCluskey said: ‘The coalition needs to urgently review the funding of the sector in the light of mass devastation of essential services to some of the most marginalised people in our society. The electorate were conned into the Big Society mirage.’

‘The funding crisis in the sector which we have warned about for the last year will mean that there is no edifice to support the Big Society ethos of volunteering; so beloved of the Prime Minister. Councils that provide financial assistance for many charities are forcing them to axe jobs and services because of the cutbacks in local authority funding.’

‘The Public Administration Select Committee needs to investigate the crisis that is engulfing UK charities. Dire warnings from respected figures and organisations as to what is happening are coming thick-and-fast.’

‘If George Osborne does not address the crisis facing the sector by his Budget on 23 March, many charities will go to the wall and that will be the death knell of the Big Society.’

‘David Cameron’s short-term fantasy of legions of well-qualified, well-meaning volunteers springing out to provide the professional services that charities currently do has become an enduring nightmare for those charities on the precipice of bankruptcy, for their staff and for the many thousands of people they assist on a daily basis.’

‘The fact that the Prime Minister’s Big Society ‘czar’, Lord Wei had to reduce his unpaid days from three to two-a-week because he could not make ends meet has turned the Big Society into a sketch from Monty Python.’

Unite’s call comes as Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the outgoing director of Community Service Volunteers (CSV) said that council cuts would make it harder for people to do more in their communities. This intervention follows the decision last week by Liverpool to abandon a Big Society pilot project because the Labour council claimed cuts were undermining the voluntary groups supposed to take over some services.

Len McCluskey is addressing A Future for a Civil Society conference being hosted by the TUC and the National Association of Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA) today (Tuesday, 8 February).

Unite’s website is:

1 Comment

  1. Colin Hall
    12 April 2012

    It seems to me that ‘The Big Society’ is just another manifestation of the British politician’s ongoing obsession with tapping into the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ of the British public. Unfortunately this spirit is not a constant force and, while it can be a powerful tool when fresh, it can create antipathy and rebellion when expected as a rule.

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