Big Society or big gaping gap where services once were?

Lady drinking a lovely cup of tea

I know what you’re thinking, catchy title.
Since writing my ‘relationships that heal society’ post back in February, there has been much talk of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.

In many ways, this was presented as the UK Conservative Party’s lynchpin policy that launched their election campaign. But it isn’t wholly unfair to describe it as a wholesale flop. People didn’t get it. I still don’t think people have really understood it. Maybe it’s too ‘conceptual’ an idea to capture the imaginations of the British electorate in an era of soundbites?

Whilst this is one aspect of Conservative policy I have a bit of time for (in headline at least), I have become increasingly concerned by the tone that this policy has been taking in recent times. My biggest worry, echoed by a recent Observer article, is that the big idea underpinning this coalition government may simply be code for not doing very much at all.

open quotesIs Big Society code for not doing very much at all…?close quotes

Far from sweeping away Britain’s social problems with a tidal wave of social responsibility, civic pride and community action, it may just be that we end up with less. And less I fear, for the most vulnerable in our society. Faced with at least 25% cuts to public services, the real issue now may not be debates around the extent to which the state should ‘interfere’ in people’s lives, or whether we should ‘help people to help themselves’, but rather, whether we will have any public services at all beyond the ‘DIY services’ of a Tesco Value state.

We are, undoubtedly, entering a time in the UK of unprecedented opportunity for the Third Sector, and the UK Church in particular, to step into the breach and play it’s mandated part in healing society of its deepest relational and societal wounds. I firmly believe that now is not the time for retrenchment into a blame game pointed squarely towards our politicians.

Yet how does the Church do this? How do we learn a new language of prayer and action that enables us to once again earn the right to speak up for the powerless in society, and stand alongside Local and Central Government in the process of re-imagining what interactions with citizens looks like? How we can help nudge society toward a greater sense of social and moral responsibility for one another – a love for one’s neighbour?

Any thoughts?

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6 thoughts on “Big Society or big gaping gap where services once were?

  1. Jason Clark has a recent post on his website about the big society:
    http://jasonclark.ws/the-big-society-how-should-christians-engage
    It’s worth a read and the book it highlights looks like a good buy for anyone interested in what role the church could play in “the Big Society”. In particular its call for the church to pause and reflect before charging into the gap left by the government and local councils in service provision seems very important. Does the gap represent a neutral space where the church with its distinctive values can make a significant contribution, not only by doing stuff but by engaging in the discussion about what kind of society we want to live in? Or will we have to pass through a secularist filter that strips away any right to mention our values or our motivation, leaving us as a bunch of bewildered volunteer activists that can’t remember why we agreed to do all this stuff in the first place?

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  2. Maybe churches should bid for contracts and be providers of services to the communites they are made up of. There are lots of skills hidden in churches or somehow work inpartnership with non for profit community organisations.

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