Saturday, August 07, 2010

Great article by Polly Toynbee about Cameron's Big Society

Good to see something solid in black and white about the Tory revisionism

So is the big society a romantic Tory aspiration or cynical political sophistry? Follow the money and the story unfolds. Far from finding themselves cherished, charities are taking a hard hit from the first round of cuts. The new Office for Civil Society (OCS), replacing Labour's Office of the Third Sector, has cut £11m from existing organisations that encourage volunteering. The youth volunteering charity V lost a further £8m and probably 90 jobs with the abolition of its schools programme. Why cut experienced organisations and staff who know how to do the job?

Coalition rhetoric denounces Labour for its big state takeover of voluntarism: it's a straight lie. Blair and Brown channelled more money and effort than ever into the voluntary sector, which doubled in value on their watch. Was that due to a sudden spasm of generosity from the burgeoning wealthy? No. Stephen Bubb, head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, points out that 70% of their extra funds came from the state.

Contrary to endless Tory jibes about Labour's "soviet tractor factory target", voluntarism is deep-dyed in Labour's roots.

For all the "broken Britain" breast–beating, we are already quite good at volunteering – 13.5 million people volunteer at least once a month, more than in most equivalent countries. But it doesn't come from nowhere: the £35bn voluntary sector is 40% sustained by state support – more than in most countries – so shrinking the state means shrinking the charitable sector, too. Evidence from this first small sample of ferocious cuts to come warns that charities will take the first and hardest hits.

Charities are an essential buffer between state and market and a beacon for innovation, but the idea that a sector that is just 2.3% of the workforce can replace the welfare state is not so much fanciful as downright dishonest. Whenever you hear talk of the big society, just follow the money.

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