I’ve often wondered about the ‘big society pledge’ that David Cameron made on starting his campaign to lead the country. It was full of big promises on community, health, and care, but have they been fulfilled?

‘Big promises’ – At the very least, that’s what it felt and sounded like in reality. ‘Big society’ didn’t really become a critical or key part of the Conservative road trail campaign until sometime when all of the vague ideas centered around society and community were brought into line.

We’re Several Years on Now

One of the major things that I can say with certainty is that no one likes how it’s evolved.  GPs are concerned that the devolution of health into the hands of conglomerates is going to lead to a bigger postcode lottery – libraries and council services are being cut and pulled back on themselves when society needs them most, and the big community seemed, for a time to become ‘get cover and services from volunteers and pretend it was about the good of the community.  But that is a very cynical view of what happened over the last few years, so let’s look at some of the things that did evolve in more detail.

As it stands, the Big society pledge has been mostly talking there have been some basic plans pushed forward, but a lot of it was something that had probably been planned before the ‘big society’ banner

Healthy Funds?

Some of the examples that have been given so far are funds to allow people to buy and run post offices in local communities, and other projects that could otherwise be considered ‘at risk’ because of austerity and other cuts.  Again, we’re back to libraries at risk of closure and bus routes that are being cut, post offices that might close in rural areas, and lack of affordable, safe community care.
But is this really big society or ‘free volunteers’?

Community Care

The cynic in me wonders if it’s not the government being cynical themselves and saying ‘if they want it, they need to put in the effort’ but at the same time, it’s not actually a bad idea.  One of the major issues that communities see now is that they’re not communities – they’re just collections of people that live together.  Encouraging people to get together and work on the projects that mean the most to the community is one of the most difficult things that many governments have worked towards in the past few years.  One of the reasons for this is that society isn’t community-centric anymore – but it’s one of the things that ‘Big Society’ wants to address.

Big Society for Disabilities

One of the major areas that big society seems to be failing is elderly and disabled.  When it comes to them, Big Society needs to be more than buzz words and the concept of possibly saving communities by preserving post offices and other projects.  One of the major problems that Big Society may face is, working with people to ensure that they can access the things that they really need to. This is where much of the problems with rural areas actually come in.  If a post office is inaccessible, no amount of saving it from the block is going to change that.  Perhaps Big Society can address that, but with such a small (relatively) fund, it’s difficult to predict.  Whether this is the saving grace of the Conservative campaign or becomes another crippling element in what they want to do and fail with remains to be seen – what many of us watching know is that to address everything they want to, they’re going to have to change some of the ideas that they’re facing down, and prioritize the push to the community.

Some of the big society ideas have been ok and some have even been implemented by communities. (We are told.) Whether the end result manifests itself to be undeniably positive or just a good PR campaign is yet to be seen.

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