We haven’t heard much from David Cameron recently about his flagship Big Society policy. Launched in 2009, and then a centre-piece of the Conservative 2010 general election manifesto, Big Society was meant to re-frame the relationship between the state, local communities and individuals.
Last month, Sir Stephen Bubb, speaking for the heads of Britain’s biggest charities, said that the Big Society idea was “effectively dead”. Actually, it’s even worse than that. Cameron’s coalition government seems to have been relentlessly pursuing policies that mean we’ll have a much smaller society than the one they inherited.
The government’s Work Programme was meant to be a shining example of the new type of relationship between the government and the voluntary sector. .As well as failing to meet any of its objectives, Bubb described it as a scheme where “reality is divorced from the rhetoric”.
The government promised that it would speed up payments to small businesses (SMEs) and charities. Yet, the latest data shows that late payments and the average time to pay against invoices have both increased.
Far from increasing support to charities and voluntary organizations, the government is planning massive cuts in financial support. Government spending on the sector will fall by £3.3bn between 2010 and 2015. The biggest fall will occur in 2015, when expenditure from local and central government sources is expected drop by almost £1.3bn in real terms compared with 2010 levels. Little wonder that about a half of all charities are predicting significant cuts in the services they provide and the number of employees and volunteers they have to deliver them.
The UK Giving Report, published in November, found that donations to charity have fallen to £9.3bn, down £1.7bn on 2010/11 (£11bn) in cash terms. That’s about a 20% cut in real terms. And the survey found that the proportion of people donating to charity is also falling.
And, despite the massive tax cuts being given to the highest earners, there’s no evidence to show that they are giving some of that to charity. In fact, the number of big charitable donations has fallen to the lowest level in 5 years.
We have a smaller society, and it’s getting smaller every day.