Thursday 15 July 2010

Big Society and Cuts

One of the problems with the whole "Big Society " notion is that it can encompass all sorts of ideas, from great and radical to zany and bonkers. So I read one of the latest offerings on the theme with some surprise.

Residents of high-crime housing estates, youth workers, teachers and housing managers should be trained to tackle anti-social behaviour as part of a "Big Society" drive, according to a report from the RSA published Tuesday. The report says the approach, which echoes David Cameron's general election rhetoric, could be adopted in the face of spending cuts in police officer numbers. It even suggests teaching self defence skills.

So that's great then. Perhaps we should all be given police batons as well? And perhaps a return to street justice to save on court time? Vigilante gangs to find a criminal and beat him up perhaps - save time in prison? There's no end to great wheezes to save money if we really think hard.

And why stop at anti- social behaviour?

When I hear this sort of approach I remember the sad case of the mother and son who committed suicide because of years of harassment and abuse from her local community as her son had learning difficulties.

It is a sad truth that communities are not always progressive, or a source of strength and support, as many marginalised communities know only too well. It is why many national charities exist: to provide the support, help and advice that people with autism, for example, or mental health problems do not always get locally. Anyone in mental health or learning difficulties knows only too well the problems that they face in trying to open a Day Centre or supporting housing in a locality.

Of course we need more community action and the work that The Adventure Capital Fund has done to invest in community enterprise has shown the power that neighbourhoods, supported through effective third sector organisations, can bring to regenerating a community.

But the recent report is the sort that will ultimately undermine the whole Big Soc concept unless it gets a proper grounding. This ought to be about empowering third sector organisations and spreading a greater sense of social cohesion, more volunteering and more civic action. It is not about substituting voluntary effort to make up for cuts.

As I warned in my speech on Big Soc, if the concept is used as an excuse to make cuts it will not only not work, but undermine the power and strength of our sector.

We want a smart strategic state, not one that says do it yourself!


Robin Bogg said...

For once, this makes perfect sense and does not need parodying

Anonymous said...

You never know, it just might work.

Can't be worse than the current approach of criminalising disaffected youth for their anti-social behaviour, slapping them with ASBOs, isolating them from the community and chucking them in a young offender's institute so they can swop car-crime tips.