Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Big society for some; unemployment and underfunded schools for others

Work done by volunteers and charities is a valuable addition to public services and the welfare state, but not an alternative to it - and certainly not without funding

David Cameron’s “Big Society” policy masquerades as encouraging volunteer work. This would be great if he was suggesting it as an addition to well funded public services rather than as a replacement for cut services – or if he was going to provide enough money to communities to run those parts of the public services that most of them preferred to run themselves.

Many volunteers do extremely valuable work and do it well - and contracting out some local council work to charities and volunteers might be an improvement for some services, where the majority want it - and if the funding is sufficient.

Charity and volunteer work can’t replace the welfare state or public services though, unless we want to go back to the nineteenth century with poverty and suffering for the majority.

The reality of the “Big Society” is likely to be that some of the wealthiest and best educated will be allowed to set up their own schools and run their own local services. Having done they will be unlikely to be willing to pay enough tax to fund public services for less fortunate others which they won’t use themselves.

The risk is that we end up with two-tier education and health services on the American model, with state schools and hospitals becoming hugely over-stretched and under-funded , while those who can afford it get private care or run their own schools.

That’s not even counting the cost of the number of people made unemployed and dumped into poverty by cuts in services, which, as usual, will be passed on to councils to implement so that the Westminster government can pretend it’s nothing to do with them. Since the majority of local services are funded from national income tax  they most definitely are to do with both.

The ‘Big Society’ looks like no more than a new advertising slogan for the Conservatives’ ideological opposition to the welfare state and public services.

Cameron’s high blown rhetoric of taking power from “the elite in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street” may yet boil down to telling taxpayers and especially the poorest “do it your f******* self”, at the same time as trying to earn enough to survive as unemployment rises.

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