Thursday, 3 February 2011

The 'big society': Returning to the 1970s

It's been a tough week for the 'big society' first Lord Wei the man dubbed the 'big society Tszar' finds that volunteering is incompatable with the pressures of work and family life, but perhaps more importantly it seems charities will be hit hard by cuts made by local authourities.

The importance of central and local government funding of the voluntary sector cannot be understated. It has been this which has been the key driver behind the sectors growth for over a decade not other factors such as the scale of volunteering which has in some instances actually been in decline according to the academic Ingo Bode.

As I mentioned in my previous post in my area the outlook for the voluntary sector couldn't appear any more grim with the authourity itself recognising the devestating impact their cuts are likely to have on the sector.

"All voluntary sector contracts which are identified as providing non
statutory preventative services are included and will be ended. The
loss of these services will impact on later costs where early
intervention would have reduced service need. Such cuts may
result in some organisations becoming unviable which will impact
on their use by other areas of the Council and partner

Day Care in my area is a great example of this, currently the bulk of the Day Care service is provided by a nonprofit organisation who are contracted by the authourity. This funding is likely to be cut to the tune of £400k. Another organisation which runs and Asian elders day centre also faces the total withdrawl of their funding.

How likely is it that voluntary organisations will make up the shortfall and be able to survive on the resources of the community and volunteers alone? Even if their survival were ensured could current standards and levels of provision be maintained, or would voluntary organisations need to strictly ration access to their services.

The ideal of the big society with its strong appeal to nostalgia may point to a time when communities, individuals and groups did come together to provide services, but such nostalgia is misplaced. As ACEVO chief Stephen Bubb pointed out government funding and an increasingly professional voluntary sector have been responsible for raising standards. It is, as Bubb mentions, quite right that we would not wish to return to the kind of services provided in the 1970s.

With cuts in government funding to the voluntary sector this though is exactly what the 'big society' will mean.

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