The “Big Society” is central to the Tories’ election campaign and ConDem coalition government policy. Instead of services being provided by an “inhuman, monolithic” state, communities can run their own post offices, schools, libraries, transport services, and housing projects.
This is a “big advance for people power”, they say. Individuals and communities will have greater control, rather than policy being dictated “from above”. A new era of community will be established as people work together to shape services and support each other. The transition to this “Big Society” will be supported by “expert organisers and dedicated civil servants” so people won’t be left in the lurch. Sounds great, right?
Wrong! In reality the “Big Society” is a way for the government to make massive cuts and attacks on public services, while making us think it’s a good idea.
It is not a particularly new idea. Thatcher’s plan to change Britain “from a give-it-to-me, to a do-it-yourself nation” has led social policy since the 1980s. If people will do things for free, in the name of fostering a culture of “volunteerism”, the government can make even bigger job cuts.
There are also implications for service provision and quality if public services are taken over by charities and volunteers. For a start where will the money for resources come from with government funding cuts?
And if “Big Society” means running vital services like education and health with volunteer workers that means untrained people have little or no experience and few rights. There is also no certainty of provision — the idea relies on getting enough volunteers to turn up to work consistently. As volunteer labour cannot be relied upon to consistently provide a quality service the effect will be less communities pulling together and more vulnerable people left without support.
Women will feel the negative impact of the “Big Society” the most. Working class women already stand to experience the biggest attack on their jobs. Cuts to housing benefits, child maintenance, lone-parent benefits, income support and services for childcare, domestic violence support or sexual and reproductive health will hit women hardest. The Tories say these services will be replaced in the community, but many people simply do not have the necessary support networks.
In any case these services require trained workers and confidential, safe and reliable spaces. Women as the more frequent carers will also be left to fill the gap left by cuts to services and benefits their dependents access like education, disability, mental health and pension and older adults’ services.
“Big Society” will consolidate sexist attitudes — pushing women back into the domestic sphere where their work goes un-valued, un-waged and un-supported, destroying their opportunities for work, study, leisure and independence.
They say “Big Society” — we say women workers build solidarity together and with other workers to fight back against this attack on our class and for our liberation!