A ‘compelling plan’ – Cameron defends Big Society

It was one of the crucial strands of the Conservatives' election strategy. But many say it isn't working. Can Cameron convince us that the Big Society is more than just hot air?

After a week of negative press, Prime Minister David Cameron is ready to go on the attack in support of the Big Society, a crucial idea from the Conservative election manifesto. He has, apparently, a 'compelling plan to engage us all in transforming Britain.'

What is this 'Big Society'? When it was first introduced into policy last year, critics attacked it as vague and ill-defined – lacking in real substance. But Cameron says that's because it's such a broad and ambitious idea: not a single definable plan, but a large-scale revolution in the way we think of society as a whole.

For too long, he says, we've looked to the state to solve our social problems. Huge organisations like Social Services or the NHS are tasked with helping those in need. Schools and hospitals are swamped with directives from central government.

Under the Big Society plan, the state stops trying to solve all our problems by itself and instead gives more responsibility to local volunteers. When people need help, says Cameron, the government is not always best placed to deliver it. Community groups have local knowledge, operational flexibility and can often deal more effectively with the situation on the ground.

What does that mean in practice?

The consequences of the policy are only just beginning to become clear, but the essential principles are: giving more power to communities; decreasing state control over public services; and encouraging more people to volunteer for social work and community projects.

Cameron wants to see people taking control of their own lives. He wants parents to organise their own schools; neighbours to take over the running of parks and post offices; volunteers to run schemes for local children or disadvantaged teens.

Empty talk?
It all sounds uncontroversial, but the Big Society is hotly debated by Cameron and his Labour opponent Ed Miliband. Cameron says everyone should support 'volunteering and philanthropic giving,' whatever their political view.

'Indeed we do,' says Miliband. But Cameron, he argues, is not really helping Britain's volunteers. Instead, the Big Society disguises a programme of brutal cuts to state spending – which will make it harder for volunteers to fund their work.

Cameron says the cuts are unavoidable and that he's trying to divert financial help to charities. But Miliband replies that organisations which should be at the head of the Big Society are being left to sink or swim.

You Decide

  1. How could you help your local community? Would you want to?
  2. Is it the government's job to fix everything? Or should some problems be left to us?

Activities

  1. Identify a problem in your community and draw up a plan to help solve it. What will you need? How would you get started?
  2. Ed Miliband says Cameron reminds him of Margaret Thatcher. Do some research to find out about Thatcher and her economic policy. Then write a newspaper article arguing either that Cameron is following in Thatcher's footsteps, or that he isn't.

Some People Say...

“Why do we need a government at all? Let's just look after ourselves.”

What do you think?

Q & A

If Cameron wants to see more volunteering, why would he cut funding?
The government currently spends much more than it earns. Cameron says we have to cut spending or we'll go bankrupt. But Labour says the cuts are ideological.
Ideological?
Historically, Conservatives have tended to believe in a 'small state.' That means a state which raises few taxes and spends little money. They think the state shouldn't interfere with people's lives.
And Labour?
Labour MPs traditionally believe in a 'big state', which levies high taxes and spends lots of money. They think the state has an important role to play in society.
How does all that relate to the 'Big Society'?
Ed Miliband thinks it's all just an excuse to cut back on state funding. He thinks the Big Society is code for the small state.

Subjects

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