Why has the concept of the ‘Big Society’ failed to catch the public’s imagination?
The concept of the ‘Big Society’ was developed as the flagship policy of the Conservative Party as part of the 2010 election campaign, an initiative designed to transfer powers from local government to the people of the community. The Big Society encompasses everything from free schools and libraries, to supporting local sports groups and repairing vandalised or damaged public property. Despite being championed as “the most important and radical part of the coalition government’s agenda” (Bishop & Green, 2011:30), the response from the British public has been underwhelming to say the least. ...view middle of the document...
Possibly the most significant reason as to why the Big Society idea has failed to catch the public’s imagination is because of more important and pressing issues, such as the rise in energy prices, the job shortage, the price of food, etc. In May 2010, the month of the General Election, an Ipsos MORI (2010b) poll found the highest level of concern about the economy they had ever recorded, with 71% of respondents saying it was one of the most important issues facing the country, a 16% increase from the previous month. 53% believed it was the single most important issue. Less than 7% considered public services or local government to be important issues. It is arguable that in tough economic times like this, a dominant proportion of people care more about looking after themselves and their families rather than taking time off work, therefore losing money, in order to help run a library or paint a bus stop. With food and energy prices soaring, earning and saving as much money as possible is on the agenda for every family. In short, taking time off work is just not a viable option for the average Briton. As Anna Coote (2010) said in her paper, ‘Ten big questions about the Big Society and ten ways to make the best of it’:
People with low-paid jobs and big family responsibilities…tend to be poor in discretionary time as well as in money…Committing time to unpaid local activity would put [unemployed people] at risk of losing benefits… In short, long hours and low wages undermine a key premise of the ‘Big Society’, which is that social and financial gains will come from replacing paid with unpaid labour.
Possibly summarised best by one particular Ipsos MORI respondent, “[the Big Society] favours those in society who have nothing better to do with their time, i.e. the rich upper class of Berkshire.” The Big Society has failed to catch the imagination of the public owing to its impracticality for both working and unemployed people. Not only is it terribly difficult to volunteer as part of the Big Society while earning enough to survive, but the focus of the people seems to be primarily on the state of the economy; many view the Big Society as smoke and mirrors, hiding the real issues facing the country.
Another very significant reason behind why the Big Society has failed to catch the public’s imagination is due to lack of trust of the Conservative party and, by extension, politicians in general. Satisfaction with Thatcher’s government in her final months as Prime Minister plummeted as low as 16%, rising only marginally at the beginning of John Major’s leadership, before dropping to an abysmal 8% satisfaction. Trust in Cameron as Leader of the Opposition rose at the outset of the recession, but has dropped significantly since he became Prime Minister. The current government has yet to meet a 50% satisfaction rating (Ipsos MORI, 1990-2013). The recent low rating could easily be from dislike of the coalition government, or...