Why the Big Society failed


1:00 pm - January 27th 2011

by Don Paskini    


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So how’s David Cameron’s “Big Society” going at the moment?

Its critics mock it, volunteers and charity workers despise it, its creators are briefing against each other, and its core supporters in the Tory Party and the think tanks are turning against it.

The only remaining question about the Big Society is not whether or not it will succeed, but how long it will be before the government quietly drops the term. John Major’s Traffic Cones Hotline lasted three years and three months, and it would be a surprise if the Big Society staggered on much longer than that.

For example:
- Philip Blond and Steve Hilton had a ‘crisis meeting’ last month about the Big Society…

- Frontline workers “haven’t a clue” what the Big Society is meant to be about.

- Phillip Pullman launches a withering attack on it in front of hundreds of people campaigning to stop library closures.

- The Chief Exec of the Royal Society for Arts writes: …“if the Big Society doesn’t get more substantive and granular quickly, it will feel like the only credible thing to do is knock the whole idea.”

- Charities which provide vital and innovative services are cutting their services

- …or even closing completely.

- …Tory MPs describe the Big Society as “intangible and incomprehensible…odd and unpersuasive”.

* * * * * * * * *

It is worth remembering as the Big Society collapses into chaos and ridicule quite how popular it was amongst the political elite when first announced. A whole “Big Society industry” sprung up over the summer, soaking up thousands and thousands of hours of civil servant and policy researcher time in conference after conference, seminar after seminar.

Labour thinkers from Demos’ Open Left project to Jon Cruddas argued that it was a brilliant strategic move which posed a deadly threat to Labour, and would define the future of political debate. Others called for Labour to embrace “the Good Society”, or “take back the Big Society”.

But while the seminars, strategy documents and thinkpieces debated the Big Society, outside of Westminster there was bemusement and growing hostility.

Problems with the Big Society are too numerous to mention, but to highlight just a few – its supporters can’t explain what it means, it has become associated primarily with closing libraries, it is very easy for opponents to mock, the people who have to deliver it don’t understand or support it, and the few detailed proposals are being appallingly badly implemented. Any one of those problems could be lethal for a government programme – let alone all of them together.

The only thing which the government could do now to save the Big Society is to throw some money at it – reverse the library closures and the cuts to charities, fund their community organiser training programme properly (rather than training people and then expecting them to be able to fundraise for their salaries), invest in the infrastructure, create a level playing field for government procurement and build the capacity needed to ensure, for example, that their neighbourhood plans don’t get dominated by a vocal minority.

But even if the political will were there, and even if the government at this late stage listened to the people who could actually make some of its ideas work, the fact that the Big Society could only be saved by the Big State chucking money at it highlights a pretty serious flaw at the heart of the whole idea.

There are several lessons to learn from the Big Society fiasco, but perhaps the simplest is to impose the “Phillip Blond test” on all new policies. The Philip Blond test is a simple one – if Philip Blond would support any given policy proposal, bin it.

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About the author
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
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Reader comments


Take a look at this piece:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/voluntary-sector-network/2011/jan/26/charity-cuts-central-government

Pretty clear that the Big Society may sound good but the actions of the government contradict their words…

It was just spin. All part of Daves green wash.

Too late now, they are tearing the country apart, and flogging off what the can. All helped by their little Lie Dem helpers.

3. gastro george

It’s transparent that while the Tories may wish to sell the “Big Society” to the public, it’s another thing to sell that to those who will have to implement it, at the same time as their sector is being decimated.

Thanks for the link Don. I do think that the Big Society moniker has done some good in terms of opening up permission for the public sector to attempt to embrace voluntary and community sector partnerships, but the lack of infrastructure on the ground is preventing the directives from the centre from having any real impact. I’m also interested in the apparent tension between the aspirations of the BS to put people in control of their lives and communities, and the ‘nudge’ policies which seem to be pushing paternalistic, subconscious techniques to shift people’s behaviours. We seem to be trusted to run our local services and take planning decisions, but not to control our eating habits or bring up our children properly.

The Big Society may well be a load of unworkable Home-Counties tut, but isn’t it a good thing to encourage and involve people in local decision making and budget allocation? I forget what Labours initiative on this was called.

The only thing which the government could do now to save the Big Society is to throw some money at it

Sadly, Don, this statement shows that the concept that people might be able to do things for themselves without having been instructed to do it, or funded by government to do it, is beyond the horizon of your mindset.

It’s like a deaf man trying to understand music.

Incidentally, anyone interested in a rational argument regarding library closures should read this.

The point is that books are very slowly, and reluctantly, heading towards obsolescence. It’s inevitable. The economics of digital distribution are too overwhelmingly against dead tree publishing, the environmental argument too compelling.

http://charlottegore.com/2011/01/16/saving-the-libraries.html

“in a rational argument regarding library closures should read this.”

And should also realise that libraries are more than just places where people read books, they act as community resources where people can also go online amongst other socially valuable things.

Pagar @ 6

The point is that the Tories is they want ‘charities’ to take over Government run duties. Charities and othe NGOs have been quitely getting on with things since year dot, but what Cameron is wanting to do is walk away from Goverment commitments and hiding behind a name.

Pagar, if you feel that you can improve ‘society’ with a bit of charity work or giving up a weekend or two, what is stopping you?

Does anyone have an idea of why we need a name for something that has existed without one for decades?

The Big Society didn’t fail..it was stillborn. It was never more than a bastardised mish-mash anyway; even it’s erstwhile proponents didn’t really know what it really meant.

Claims that it promoted localism and decentralisation were seen by most people for what they were; a grotesque caricature masking the hidden ideological agenda to keep the lower orders in their place by dismantling the welfare state, entrenching privilege, and letting charities and voluntary groups take up the slack.

‘a rational argument regarding library closures’

The economics and trends in education are towards self-teaching, distance learning and electronic delivery. Fantastic stuff is happening in that field now. That doesn’t mean that we close all schools this year and give everyone a laptop and a link to iTunes U. Especially given that fifty years ago you could people claiming that the trends were for all education to eventually be done over the telly. Closing libraries because no-one uses them would be rational. Closing libraries because you think no-one *should* use them, even though lots of people do use them, is fucking insane. Deterministic technofetishism is not rational. Or at least no more rational than liking books because of the smell.

Also worth pointing out at the library you get books for free, and online certain copyright laws prevent this (OK, we all know that things can be downloaded illegally, but I hardly think that is the intention of library closures).

@ Jim

Pagar, if you feel that you can improve ‘society’ with a bit of charity work or giving up a weekend or two, what is stopping you?

Not a thing. I give as much spare time as I have to helping people in my community and many others do the same.

@ Clark

Closing libraries because no-one uses them would be rational. Closing libraries because you think no-one *should* use them, even though lots of people do use them, is fucking insane.

And what if one person wanted to use them. Or ten people at a cost of, say, £60 per day each.

Would that still be rational? Or is closing a library always a BAD THING to do?

@13 – I did say that closing libraries *when people are using them* is insane. If no-one uses them, you can go ahead with my blessing. Also, if we have complete world peace you can get rid of the armies. And when no-one gets sick close the NHS.

But there’s no need to look at hypotheticals – in my county of Gloucestershire, there was not just a handful of people using the libraries but 2,905,187 library visits in 2009/10, down from 2,966,415 in 2008/9 (futurists may wish to have a longer than usual think before blaming that small drop on Kindles and Project Gutenberg.) That small drop in visits is going to be matched, if the council have their way, to a 45% drop in funding. For a service that takes up 1.45% of the total budget. It is simply not rational to look at those figures and think that this is all ok *now* because at some undetermined time in the future the number of people wanting to read paper books without paying directly (because of course we do pay as a collective) will be much smaller than it currently is.

Incidentally, there’s no reason why in the future a library service can’t be involved in lending eBooks as long as the right balance can be found. I can already access the OED and several other online reference materials thanks to the library service. Ebooks don’t make the concept of libraries obsolete.

‘Big Society’ will be getting much bigger- teen pregnancy rates are getting worse not better, in my area the paper reported double numbers of births over the past six months. For all the tories tough right ring ‘axe benefits’ talk, having a kid is still a very easy option for getting a flat and benefits, and its even encouraged by the NHS (in the last paragraph it says ‘now I have a nice flat’ it makes any sane person vomit) -http://www.childrenfirst.nhs.uk/teens/life/girls/puberty_sex_health/pregnancy/teenage_mums.html

For all the banks obvious faults, long term these ‘mothers’ will cost the country as much. Its all to do with the class system the tories still yearn for, in fact it wouldn’t surprise my if some tories want the ‘proles’ to get benefits- while they have benefits,flats,pubs,sex,football etc they are under control and not threatening them with civil unrest. Its when they start thinking and questioning the Etonians get worried.

Pagar @ 13

Then I cannot see a problem here. If you, or people like you, want to provide a service, outside of Government, then more power to your elbow, but I cannot see why we need an umbrella called ‘the big society’ for you to do it and nor do I understand why any Government need mention this, either.

If you are a person of means with time on your hands, living in an area where helping out at the local school is a jolly social undertaking, blissfully unaware of life as it is lived by large sectors of the population who work long hours and go home exhausted at the end of the day to look after their own children… well then I am sure the Big Society sounded like a great wheeze. Such people are sincere but ignorant and misguided.

One can always try to work out exactly who are the sincere ones and who are the ones in the Tory party for whom the Big Society agenda was never anything more than a cynical cover for slashing and burning public services.

I know where I would put Dave and Gideon.

13 Pagar: ” . . . Is closing libraries always a bad thing?”

Is keeping Castles open by means of tax breaks for the nobs always a good thing?

I don’t get myself involved in wars, on a point of principle, – can I have my taxes transferred from military spending that I don’t want – into Libraries that I do want – you know – in a Big Society sort of way? Let them who support – or have something to gain from war go and fight them for no charge – bottom up style – not top down..

Is invading Poland always a bad thing? Are there some questions that are too bloody stupid to ever give voice to? Yes! yes! yes! – closing Libraries is always a bad thing – just as burning books in the street is a BAD thing – only a philistine or an accountant -or a you know what – would be ‘relaxed’ about it.

@5&6

So you expect people to work for nothing, and volunteers to magically organise themselves do you? Councils up and down the country are cutting back on volunteering services and volunteering coordinators. They are cutting back the very things that would be needed to make any serious “Big Society” programme workable.

This appears to directly contradict the government’s stated intentions. So either the government is either very naive to believe that you could cut back the state without serious consequenses, and have no idea what they’re doing. Or the critics were right all along and the “Big Society” was just a piece of cynical window dressing designed to sugar the pill of massive Thatcther style cuts, which they never took seriously to begin with.

So either way the government is either stupid or evil.

Such people are sincere but ignorant and misguided.

The voluntary sector is really pretty large in this country you know. Just because the majority of commenters here can’t ever imagine donating their time for community projects doesn’t mean that the rest of the country feels the same.

Whether that’s school governors, or national trust employees or charity shop assistants, or the womens institute, or the royal british legion, or the RNLI – these people aren’t ignorant or misguided, and it’s depressingly typical that you should think they are.

@ C S Clark

in my county of Gloucestershire, there was not just a handful of people using the libraries but 2,905,187 library visits in 2009/10

I understand that Gloucestershire are proposing to reduce their libraries from 38 to 9.

Cue booing.

Mulligrubs tells me that is a BAD THING- it always is.

Well, the facts are that the libraries that are closing average 70 visitors per day. This figure includes online visitors or, indeed, anyone who phones them up.

Nor are these unique visitors- the total pool of users is around 1000 for each library. The average cost per visit is about £12 and, at that price, it would be cheaper to buy each regular user a book and a cup of coffee every time they wanted one rather than retain the library.

Or we could buy them each an ipad and free itunes subscription.

OK, I know that literature is a priceless gift and there are lots of softer, cuddlier reasons for keeping libraries open. But the above does put the costs in some kind of perspective and I’d be willing to bet if the library users had to pay the real cost per visit, there would be no usage whatever.

And the £8 million per annum that will be saved by the above closures could buy a hell of a lot of care assistants.

Does anyone know of a definition for the Big Society ?

21 Pagar -

This was the kind of short sighted – no – blind utilitarian attitude that cost us much of the rural railway network in the fifties and early sixties. What blind idiocy was that in retrospect? Accountants don’t know a long term asset when they see one – only a short term balance sheet. ” Cheaper to buy each regular user a book and a cup of coffee every time they wanted one – rather than retain the library.” Did you include the librarians unemployment benefit costs in your ‘cheaper’ calculations? Thought not. If this is your approach to the time honoured and valued community tradition – plus the positive social and educational facility provided by libraries – of which there are too few even now – then the whole point is lost on you. But don’t base your argument on costs alone – posterity will not thank you.

@6

It’s like a deaf man trying to understand music.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_van_Beethoven

Being deaf doesn’t prevent a composer hearing the music, it prevents them from hearing the distractions. (h/t T. Pratchett)

@23

This was the kind of short sighted – no – blind utilitarian attitude that cost us much of the rural railway network in the fifties and early sixties. What blind idiocy was that in retrospect?

That wasn’t blind idiocy in the slightest – it was the predictable result of handing the post of Transport Secretary to the owner of the largest road construction firm in Britain.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Marples

Of course, when he went into politics, he sold the company to prevent any conflict of interest… To his wife, naturally.

Bluepillination @24:

OK – I still regard the closure of the rural railways under Beeching et al as blind idiocy – but I take your point and thank you for it. In view of the facts that you have added perhaps I should rephrase it and call it criminal idiocy? Either way – it didn’t have to be like that and the public libraries should not be subjected to an identical fate. To fight and to succeed in keeping them would be a worthwhile victory for our big society – would it not? Will anyone champion the return of public libraries after they have gone?

Bluepillinations @ 24;

My God – Bluepillinations – I’ve just read that link to Wikipedia re: Marples! What an utter crook! It makes our latter day, convicted expenses fiddlers look like naughty schoolboys. Thank you for pointing me in the direction of that astonishing revelation. I must go and take my counter-naivety pills and have a lie down!

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 6

“Sadly, Don, this statement shows that the concept that people might be able to do things for themselves without having been instructed to do it, or funded by government to do it, is beyond the horizon of your mindset. ”

Christ, pagar, not this again. Being cynical about society’s willingness to make up for withdrawn government investment does not make you a misanthrope.

The point is this: people who do charity work already do charity work, regardless of what stupid terminology Cameron decides to throw around, so what reason do you have to assume that a whole new bunch of people will rise up and take to the soup kitchens (or wherever) just because someone thinks up the phrase “Big Society”? Where were these people two years ago?

I’m sure the damage done to the vulnerable by this nasty little scheme will convince a few people to do a bit more in the community, but enough to make up for the cancelled investment entirely? Please. The argument may as well be “Sure, I’ve torn your arm off, but don’t worry… your neighbour is giving out free aspirin and plasters!”

Pagar, you’re a libertarian who doesn’t like tax money being spent on helping people. Just admit it instead of going around acting as if the very people who want to protect the vulnerable are misanthropic bastards.

“– these people aren’t ignorant or misguided, and it’s depressingly typical that you should think they are.”

His point was that such people are usually those with the time to get involved with voluntary work, which isn’t possible for people who work long hours.

Ted @22: Does anyone know of a definition of the Big Society?

You don’t seem to be getting any answers and you’d think that the Tory trolls would be falling over themselves to explain. I have a theory – but that’s all it is – not a definitive answer as I do not think such an answer exists. Do you recall Blair? – he used to trumpet on about a Stakeholder Society – sounded good – meant nowt. Big Society also cannot be nailed down specifically, but if you ask a Tory ‘No alternative evangelist’ what will replace essential and desirable social services cut by odious Osborne – you will get the answer ‘The Big Society.’ I strongly suspect it is a smokescreen concealing no hope at all. So the Big Society is a vortex in which time is bought for a load of incompetent humbugs – but that’s only my theory – no doubt others will have a different and possibly less cynical view.

30. Chaise Guevara

Mulligrubs

“I strongly suspect it is a smokescreen concealing no hope at all.”

That’s absolutely what it is. If not, someone would have been able to define the bloody thing by now. With supporting figures and/or logic. The Big Society seems to mean “everyone’s magically going to get more charitable because I say so”.

David Cameron had better hope that the BIG SOCIETY is not going to be the people rising up to bring this Coalition down because I now hear people that voted for the Conservatives saying some very strong things about all of them. I can tell you now, people are very very unhappy with both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrates and now see that Labour may not have been so bad after all.

The Big Society Dream may not be what David Cameron thought it would be if they screw the economy up good and proper but only time will tell.

@ Chaise

Being cynical about society’s willingness to make up for withdrawn government investment does not make you a misanthrope.

Well, until the notion that it is government’s role to provide for our well being from cradle to grave is shown to be an illusion, we will not know whether my faith in humanity or your lack of faith in our fundamental altruism is justified.

Let’s hope we find out soon.

And yet the very fact that we have developed a sophisticated but ultimately flawed political system that is designed to protect the vulnerable suggests I am right.

It is the imposed mechanism that is stultifying.

33. Chaise Guevara

@ 32

“And yet the very fact that we have developed a sophisticated but ultimately flawed political system that is designed to protect the vulnerable suggests I am right. ”

Oh, I see. So the “sophisticated” bit gets assigned to altruism, I’m guessing, while the “flawed” bit is laid at the feet of government? Nice try. Governments are people, Pagar. They’re people who are elected by people to serve people. Over here on the left, I might suggest that goverment mediates flawed, self-involved and often non-existent altruism into a more sophisticated system where everyone is protected from everyone else. Ain’t language fun?

More to the point, I don’t see you explaining where this legion of volunteers-who-weren’t-volunteers-till-our-saviour-Cameron-told-them-to-be are going to come from. Any ideas, or are you just going to post vague musings about the wondrousness of human nature again?

Pagar @ 21

I bet you have not factored in the value of living in a society where books are freely available to anyone and what that says about the values that such a society that supports it.

This is you and I fundamentally disagree. You feel, as a Libertarian, that you can beam Star Trek like into society, take what you need and then ghost away again, without either you or society making the single impression on each other. It is almost as if you think that the society or that culture that built it sprang out of dust the day you born and know that it will crumble to dust the second you draw your last breath.

I am here to tell you mate, EVERYTHING you own exists because the society and culture and yes the State and public money that went build it. You live in a free, open liberal, democratic society, that didn’t just appear out of nowhere, this society is the culmination of thousands of years of work. Libraries are but a small part of that, admittedly, but I would rather live in a Country where books are kept in libraries, rather than burnt in the street. I rarely, if ever, visit the library, I buy books rather borrow them, but I would really miss the library if it were gone, not directly for myself of course, but I honestly believe that our culture would suffer and my fellow human beings would suffer too.

You people think you can remove the foundation stones that our society was built on without affecting the roof, by Christ, I hope you are correct, but looking at the Countries that have none of the services we have, it doesn’t look good, does it?

32

Sorry pagar, it does no such thing.

One might equally argue that your conception is flawed. What you grandly characterise as “faith in humanity” might just as well be termed “let them eat cake” by those who don’t share your views. One doesn’t have to believe in cradle to grave support to think that the Big Society is flawed as a concept, or that your weltanschauung is deeply depressing.

36. Chaise Guevara

@ Jim and Galen

Shit, I think I had a go at both of you in another thread, and now I’m strongly regretting it. Very well put on both counts.

Pagar @ 32

It is the imposed mechanism that is stultifying.

Is itreally, Pagar? Are you saying that you feel stultified by this Country. Why is that you people are always telling us about how bad the State is and you wish to remove as much as it as possible, when there are dozens of Countries with no State or even where the State has failed? Surely it would be easier to up sticks and move to a Country that had no State than trying to remove the State from here?

I can think of at least a dozen or so States where there is no Welfare State, no speed cameras and no smoking ban, oh and little tax too, yet most Libertarians either live here or want to move to another modern, First World State, go figure?

Could it be that living in a backward, Stateless Country is not all it is cracked up to be?

36

Indeed, which thread?

I guess life would be boring if we were in violent agreement all the time. I always thought you sounded quite reasonable, but of course if you’ve been dissing me elsewhere, you’re probably a …… ;)

39. Chaise Guevara

@ 37

I suspect real-world libertarianism translates as “I support the state as long as it’s preventing people from taking my stuff from me”. Or “governments are there to protect the sanctity of wealth”. Something philosophical and worthy like that.

40. Chaise Guevara

@ 38

LOL, agreed. Let me look it up…

It’s the one about our friend Delingpole. Basically, I’m yelling at you for being beastly to the right-wingers, despite my own instincts.

40

Oh really? You surprise me…. Didn’t you watch the Horizon programme? Truly horrifying- honestly, the man’s a waste of DNA.

Don’t make me add you to the LC “first against the wall” list bud! ;)

42. Chaise Guevara

@41 That’s my line! I’ve got no problem with you taking down Delingpole and all he represents, not being on friendly terms with self-serving selective stupidity (I get on fine with assonance, obviously).

No, it’s because Jim wrote a “why all right-wingers are total bastards” tract, which you agreed with. I kinda sympathise, cause I’ve been there myself, but I’ve met some Tories who have been irritatingly decent people.

@ Chaise/Gallen/Jim

Well, chaps. I seem to have managed to unite the opposition!!!!

As I said to Don in my first post on this thread, to understand that a libertarian society would work, you have to be able to see a little over the horizon of the world we currently inhabit. And that’s not easy.

Over the last 150 years the state has taken responsibility for our lives. It now educates our children, keeps us healthy, and provides us with enough money to live on if we don’t have any of our own. State legislation and regulation extends into every corner of our lives and controls a great deal of what we do in relation to each other and, in the case of taking drugs, what we do to ourselves. This has culminated in the state dictating what the owner of a property may be permitted legally to use it for (the smoking ban) which, though insignificant in itself, I think will be seen in the future as having been the step too far.

But the problem we now have is that there is no living memory of a society that was constructed in any other way. We can’t remember that, before the NHS, state education and universal welfare, patients were cured, children were taught and the poor did not starve.

And, because there is no living memory, most people are terrified at the prospect of taking back responsibility for their own lives. The state gives them guarantees of security and absolves them of responsibility for themselves and their families and they are happy with that. It’s a Faustian contract, but most don’t notice or care that one of the key elements of their humanity (their freedom) has been taken in payment.

So if we are to move the pendulum back a little it is essential that the government’s health, education and welfare guarantees are reined in to some extent (in any case it is quite clear that the whole edifice is unsustainable economically in the long term).

The people who have said above that the Big Society is partly a cover story to put a rationale on the effect of cuts to the socialist state are quite correct. But, if it is intended to puncture the illusion of the paternal state, then I see the merit.

His point was that such people are usually those with the time to get involved with voluntary work, which isn’t possible for people who work long hours.

I’m a city lawyer with a child under 2 (and another due next month), and yet I manage to do pro bono legal advice and (in the summer) coach cricket to schoolkids. And the point remains that there are an awfully large number of people who do give their time voluntarily.

@44 Good for them, now tell me why increasing the demand for volunteers is a worthy cause.

45 – Because volunteering is good both for the volunteer and for the people he helps? I don’t get the opposition to this.

43

Where you see merit in the idea, many others will simply see a threat. Obviously both sides come at this from existing “ideological” positions, which colour their conceptions of how good an idea it is to move the pendulum back from the current position (which you see as both untenable and also undesireable), to a position with less state intervention.

The reason many people are suspicious of the kind of libertarian utopia you hanker after, is that they suspect it isn’t achievable, or that if it was tried it would look pretty dystopian for many.

The reason the state has “moved into” so many areas is that history has shown (particularly with respect to society after the industrial revolution) that voluntary action, charity, liassez faire attitudes, or reliance on e.g. employers (or others) to provide decent working conditions, a safe environment, not to pollute, provide health and welfare benefits, pensions etc., etc…. just didn’t work!

You may be sanguine about the days “before the NHS, state education and universal welfare, patients were cured, children were taught and the poor did not starve.”…. but I’m certainly not.

Is the current set up perfect? No, of course not.

Would I swap it for the libertarian wet dream envisaged by the Big Society? Hell no!

I don’t get the opposition to this.

Don’t you?

Because the volunteer takes away a paid job to which someone else is rightly entitled.

There are many unemployed cricket coaches.

(please note the above is intended to be ironic)

46 Tim J

For pity’s sake, people aren’t saying it’s a bad thing; they ARE saying it shouldn’t be, and couldn’t possibly be, something society can rely upon to provide basic services, or to substitute for the state provision of such services which have been cut for ideological/economic reasons.

I don’t particularly want volunteers or amateurs (however well meaning) being used as replacements in vital areas of health and social care; I want trained, qualified, decently paid professionals to do it.

Coaching cricket is great if you have the time, skills and inclination…. but it’s not a model for how we can substitute volunteerism and/or charity for the modern, complex welfare state. I applaud the fact you do pro-bono work… but I wouldn’t necessarily want to rely on your goodwill in the event that you fell under a bus, got too busy to carry on doing stuff for free, or just decided you’d had enough.

@43 An open admission that you would like us to go back to the 19th century, if not further. You don’t often see that kind of refreshing honesty from libertarians. Perhaps we should go back to the model of the state just taking our money to further it’s imperialist aims while churches return to providing education, palliative care, and provide handouts to those deemed worthy and needy enough.
You know, like the good old days.

@46 How about the ‘voluntary’ part of ‘volunteer’, increasing the need for volunteers doesn’t mean that there is a guaranteed upswing in people willing to give up their free time, it just means more who need help and assistance are going to get shafted from a lack of help. The people who will volunteer already are, the big society is nothing more than making things worse in order to try and guilt-trip people who normally wouldn’t, to volunteer.

For pity’s sake, people aren’t saying it’s a bad thing; they ARE saying it shouldn’t be, and couldn’t possibly be, something society can rely upon to provide basic services, or to substitute for the state provision of such services which have been cut for ideological/economic reasons.

Well, the post I was originally replying to described volunteers as being ignorant and misguided. And the point I’m making is that voluntary work is already an integral part of society, and it isn’t limited to housewives and retired people. I don’t think anyone in Government is calling for the wholesale abolition of state-funded education or healthcare, and the promotion of voluntary work is as much about removing current state-imposed barriers (at one point I was subject to three separate CRB checks) as it is about anything else.

It’s odd really that the left are so opposed to the idea, as it derives very clearly from old fashioned leftish ideas about society.

52

” I don’t think anyone in Government is calling for the wholesale abolition of state-funded education or healthcare, ..”

Maybe not, but plenty would be quite happy to see this (or some “lite” version of it) come to pass. They may, however grudgingly, have to accept the rationale for some level of state provision, it is in other areas of social welfare…whether it is meals on wheels, support for the disabled, home helps, care homes etc. where the logic of the Big society will increasingly try to substitute state provision with provision by charities and/or volunteers.

This will not be because this is “additional” help, but because it will replace state funded programmes which have been withdrawn for economic reasons, i.e. it’s an ideological response. In the dividing up of the tax “cake” proponents of the Big Society would rather see a smaller cake, and smaller portions given to these programmes so that they can keep more of their own money and throw the less fortunate to the wolves.

Whether they adnit it or not, they are moving us away from the current social model towards that we can see in the USA, where an underclass of quasi-helots supports an edifice allowing the super rich to keep their wealth, and the middle class is too scared by the lack of a safety net to rock the boat.

Chaise @ 42

I do not believe that ALL Right Wingers are bastards, I believe that the ones deny Global Warming and want to abolish the welfare State are bastards, and pretty despicable with it too. I feel that there are decent Tories that are sometimes ‘misguided’ or just plain ‘wrong’, but there are many (not necessarily ‘most’, just many and leave it at that) that appear driven by a real malevolent streak.

Pagar @ 43

Yes, the State has done things over the last 150 years. They set us a education system that meant, instead of sending six year olds up chimmys we sent them to school, sending them to school eventually lead to a culture that had practically full literacy. Those literacy and educational standards led to Britain having, at one time at least, one of the best-educated workforces in the World. Not only did we have an educated workforce, but that educated workforce was also an educated population. The ‘State’ also built clean drinking water and eventually an NHS that meant our population became healthier and stronger. The welfare State lifted the living standards of everyone in society, not just the poor.

Oh, and that State also conscripted million of young men to fight wars and the State rationed food and collect the raw materials to fight those Wars too. The State built planes and ships, dug coal etc.

We can’t remember that, before the NHS, state education and universal welfare, patients were cured, children were taught and the poor did not starve.
The poor did not starve? People were educated and patients were cured? Really? Are you serious about that? You have never read a book about the pre War history of Britain? Your whole argument about the need for libraries, falls down right there, Pagar. I suggest you get yourself down to a library and brush up a bit about our history.
In some ways, Pagar your naivety is pretty touching because it means that your entire political philosophy is built on total ignorance rather than an ‘evil intent’. You feel that our society just spontaneously arrived out of thin air, and it never occurred to you that the reason we live in a reasonably secure, prosperous, affluent society is because of the social advances that have been carried out in the name of State sponsored ‘do-gooding’. You don’t see any connection to the fact that welfare State and the fact that ‘nobody starves’ here?
State legislation and regulation extends into every corner of our lives and controls a great deal of what we do in relation to each other and, in the case of taking drugs, what we do to ourselves
And so what? You can really look at our culture, our society and feel somehow stifled by living in a modern Country? You really look at the truly ‘free’ people with envious eyes? You look at those living in South American favellas and the squalor and see a man who can smoke indoors with envy? You are cheered at the thought of the Thai ten year old giving rich Westerners blow jobs and get dewy eyed because she has not got into a ‘dependency culture’? You see the Somali pirate and feel glad that he is not got to fill out a risk assessment? You look at the millions of ‘free marketers’ living on less than a dollar a day and see ‘freedom’? Because from where I am sitting I see examples of millions, if not billions of people suffering and being ground into the ground by the greed of others. I see what happens to billions of people when ‘Libertarian principles’ are applied to Nations, when the ‘State’ collapses. To be honest, if the alternative to a Welfare State is child prostitution, then I do not think it is worth the hassle.

You see the Somali pirate and feel glad that he is not got to fill out a risk assessment?

Brilliant rant, Jim.

But our relative well being is not a result of the government appropriating money in taxation and spending it in a civilising fashion, it is a result of the wealth created by the expansion of our economy. For this the state takes no credit except that, in the 19th century, it had the sense to keep out of the way.

GDP per capita in the late 19th century (and in Thailand today) was about $3000. In the UK today it is about $40,000.

That is why we need not worry about children starving in the streets.

Incidentally, Belgium has not had a government for the last six months or so.

And everything is just fine. In fact nobody seems to have missed it………

@56

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cinquantenairerally.jpg

So this picture of people demonstrating in order to support formation of a government is a figment of our imagination?

Anyway – most of what some libertarians want to see done away with aren’t functions of the political arm of government per se, as much as that of the civil service. I believe Belgium still had that, albeit slightly rudderless at present.

Pagar @ 55

But our relative well being is not a result of the government appropriating money in taxation and spending it in a civilising fashion, it is a result of the wealth created by the expansion of our economy

You don’t think that building roads helped in expanding our economy? You don’t think the Conservative (see they are not all bad) Government building a quarter of million State owned houses for the working class helped expand the economy? You don’t think Nationalised industries expanded the economy? Or clean drinking water and the introduction of the NHS had any effect on the workforce? You don’t think that having a healthy workforce has any effect on the economy? You don’t think the ‘factories act’ or Health and Safety legislation had any effect on the expansion of the economy? You don’t think having an educated, literate workforce had any effect on the economy? You don’t think that farm subsidies had any effect on the expansion of the economy? You don’t think the ‘Marshall plan’ (good God, even America is getting a look in). You don’t think public transport had any effect on the economy? You don’t think National service had any effect on the economy? You don’t think having a civil service didn’t have an effect on society? Or a public sector middle class, had an effect on the economy, or University funding had an effect on the expansion of our economy? All those NHS doctors, dentists and nurses with a disposable income had anything to do with the economy? Or the fact that the unemployed could still afford to live? Did the fact that unemployment no longer meant destitution, that had no effect on the economy? Nor the invention of police forces? Nor the million other things that the Government spent money on over the years?*

You think that the expanding economy ‘just happened’ then? No wonder you are a Libertarian.

*Further reading: Check out the beginning of the Bank of England and the first ‘National debt’, in the 1690s.

@ Jim

You don’t think that building roads helped in expanding our economy? YES

You don’t think the Conservative (see they are not all bad) Government building a quarter of million State owned houses for the working class helped expand the economy? NO

You don’t think Nationalised industries expanded the economy? NO

Or clean drinking water and the introduction of the NHS had any effect on the workforce?YES, BUT NOT ON WEALTH CREATION

You don’t think that having a healthy workforce has any effect on the economy? YES

You don’t think the ‘factories act’ or Health and Safety legislation had any effect on the expansion of the economy? NO

You don’t think having an educated, literate workforce had any effect on the economy? YES

You don’t think that farm subsidies had any effect on the expansion of the economy? NO

You don’t think the ‘Marshall plan’ (good God, even America is getting a look in). NO, ON GERMANY’S ECONOMY, MAYBE

You don’t think public transport had any effect on the economy? YES

You don’t think National service had any effect on the economy?NO

You don’t think having a civil service didn’t have an effect on society? NO

Or a public sector middle class, had an effect on the economy, or University funding had an effect on the expansion of our economy? NO

All those NHS doctors, dentists and nurses with a disposable income had anything to do with the economy? NO

Or the fact that the unemployed could still afford to live? NO

Did the fact that unemployment no longer meant destitution, that had no effect on the economy? NO

Nor the invention of police forces? NO

Nor the million other things that the Government spent money on over the years? NO

Fuck me, where’s Tim Worstall when you need him?

@ BPN

So this picture of people demonstrating in order to support formation of a government is a figment of our imagination?

I’ve seen more of a crowd at a Tranmere game.

Pagar @ 59

So, all those thing you feel able to dismiss, you are saying had no effect on the economy? Nothing among your ‘no’ list created demand for anything? Not so much as a packet of digestives spent on a building site or added value to society? Housing people did not create stable families and those stable families never bought anything? Those civil service employees brunt their wages in skips instead of spending it on shops, eh? Creating time served craftsmen had no effect on the economy?

I think you are being deliberately naive here, Pagar.

Fuck me, where’s Tim Worstall when you need him?
Portugal, where he’s always been.

63. Just Visiting

nobody has said it yet – but I understand that the number of people volunteering in recent years has been falling.

And that a prime reason is the health+safety / CRB intevention of the state.

I heard from an MP recently- who had been approached by the Scouts, saying that whenever an parent with a concern went to court against the Scouts – that every time the scouts would lose. And this was sending a message to scout leaders across the country, that it wasn;t worth the hassle to be caught up in that.

So the MP tracked the next 4 court cases against the scouts nationwide, and sure enough, every time the courts ruled against them – and every time on a trivial technicality.

And I know from a primary school in my town – the teachers put in extra time, above their contracts, to do tings like school exchanges: but the hassle factor or risk assessment is a serious turn off, and puts off many teachers.

Here’s a funny case – German kids iovcer on exchange, on the beach with the english kids.
The german kids are allowed to swim: no teacher is in the water with them.
British kids are told they may NOT swim! Because the risk assessment was too onerous to get enough suitably life-saving trained staff on the beach, and enough in the water at any one time.

So if the state rolled back – there is no reason to think we would not roll back to earlier times when we had more volunteers.

(I know many people with hugely responsible jobs, long hours – who already volunteer in many ways: football clubs for kids, counselling for asylum seekers, after school spports clubs, soup kitchens for those on the street, midnight-helpers to get drunk students home safely, saturday kids clubs. Interestingly I’d estimate that 1 in 3 of them are christians who also volunteer within their churches alot too)

64. Just Visiting

Mulligrubs

> Did you include the librarians unemployment benefit costs in your ‘cheaper’ calculations? Thought not

That argument is bogus I’m afraid – if you followed that argument, then you would never have closed the typing-pools in hospitals and government, even after the word-processor meant that 1 typist could do the work of 10.

Or we’d still have message-boys running round offices with paper memos in their hands….

65. Just Visiting

Mulligrubs

or you better talk to the Germans – they are about to close their coal mines, because they lose money to the tune of 60,000 euros per worker per year.

@63 The thing with risk assessments is that they have more to do with legal arse-covering than any actual extension of the state.
“Have you had an accident at work, perhaps tripped on a loose paving slab? Then you might be entitled to compensation…”

Wanna guess what the legal bill for a child nearly drowning would be?

67. Just Visiting

Cylux

You’re quite right.

But surely it is the state, that allows the culture of ‘sue first think later’.

If parliament passed some laws that reduced the prevalence of such cases, society as whole would benefit.

Germany for one doesn’t suffer from this problem – so their legal system has some elements we could copy.

Of course the lawyers might be miffed at losing some work….so may not be motivated to advise MPs that it should happen…

(Silly example of what our current legal framework causes -on the coast near me, as erosion defences there is a huge wall of piled up rocks, each ~ 1m diameter.

So the council puts up signs every 50 metres ‘warning : large rocks with deep gaps between them’ !

Only the blind would not be able to see the rocks…and only the blind would not be able to read the signs!

So the true cash cost in (extra signage, council staff time, paperwork etc) of our current legal framework is huge.

But back to this thread, it has a cost in reducing the number of people willing to volunteer.

@67 Not sure if more laws are needed or if existing laws could be tightened to prevent abuse, but I agree with the main thrust. Shame efforts directed toward law seem to hinge on denying the least well-off access to justice rather than targeting the areas which are easily abused.
Ironically, it appears a lack of state interference with the law is the root cause of the accusations of “nanny state”.

55
The moment that the term ‘laissez-faire’ was coined it no longer existed.
It’s a common mistake many make about the 19th century, but without state intervention it is questionable whether mass markets could have survived.
Just one example is the state unifying weights and measures.
64,65
Voluntary work being carried-out is, no doubt, part of a Christian ethic but it does have it’s downside with reference to the economy. – An old schoolfriend, who is also a single mother started working in a local hospice and at the same time collected a small amount of tax-credit. Over the period of a few months she was given fewer shifts until it worked-out about one per week.. The reason – her job was being done by volunteers. Now it is not financially viable for her to work and she is now being fully supported by the state while she looks for other work which, in the area she lives, is few and far between. It appears that the volunteers are nice middle-class ladies and maybe they are Christians, however, they do not come from an household where it is necessary for outside work to equal an income.

It’s a common mistake many make about the 19th century, but without state intervention it is questionable whether mass markets could have survived.

I am not saying that government does not have a role in regulating markets.

However the role is not to allow oligopolies to develop so that it can tax their excess profits to fund its equality agenda. An alliance between the state and big corporations is highly dangerous as we have just seen with the banking crisis.

Tim J @ 44: ” I’m a city lawyer . . . ”

Well, confession is good for the soul Tim – it could be worse – you could have been a city banker – you know; Avarice = a deadly sin. In that case forgiveness and absolution are not so forthcoming. But the good news is that you have seen fit to repent – your penance will be to use your influence to keep all our libraries open – and put a good word in for the retention of public woodlands while you are about it.
Go forth Tim and sin no more – how about a future career in voluntary work – you know – Big Society style – wouldn’t that be poetic justice? Best wishes for your revival. “Seek and ye shall find . . .”

72. Just Visiting

Jojo

So what you’re saying is: that it is more important for a charity to provide employment, than it is to make the best of it’s finances to help it’s stated objectives – helping the dying.

On what basis do you feel that the hospice does not have the right to decide what it’s objectives are?

73. Just Visiting

Mulligrubs, you’ve come over all New Testament this morning.

Some kind of Sunday effect?

I guess you’d have found it harder to make light humour if instead of the repent message of Jesus, you’d used Quranic sources, with Tim an apostate sentenced to death…

74. Just Visiting

Cylux

> Ironically, it appears a lack of state interference with the law is the root cause

Well actually, it can be argued that the unthinking application of new laws has caused the compensation culture.

Things like European Human Rights, have been applied in the UK without thinking ahead to the repercussions that we’ve agreed on here.

Just Visiting @ 73.

No sir I don’t get myself involved in Quranics – not even Tai Chi or Hydroponics – Sunday morning is for peace, reconciliation and and forgiveness – but thanks for the interest. N.b. Peace, reconciliation and forgiveness isn’t extended to this Government ( they’re beyond redemption) however – I must be frank with you – I just suspend judgement for one day – it’s the best I can do in a New Testament – love thy neighbour kind of way. By the way – support the Libraries won’t you?

@74 I’m pretty sure the compensation culture is a US import, not a consequence of the European Human rights act. Putting “Caution Hot Liquids” onto coffee cups was McDonald’s response to being successfully sued after a customer spilled her drink onto herself and badly burned herself. Everyone on this side of the pond was immediately confronted with the idea that having an accident that was someone else’s fault could be a path to easy money.

Similar lawsuits brought against McDonald’s in the UK failed, but that hasn’t stopped everyone taking measures “just in case”.

72
Please re-read my post, you appear not to have read it or you are replying to some other poster?
My argument was about certain consequences for the economy when volunteers take over the job that was otherwise done by a person in paid employment. I have made no reference to the ‘rights’ of employers or indeed believe that they should not distribute work in anyway they wish.


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