What Is The Big Society?

2/16/2011 03:36:00 pm BenefitScroungingScum 25 Comments

I have a confession to make. Some of you may already know this, but for those about to be shocked I can only apologise and beg you to forgive me.

I have a crush on David Cameron. I know, I know. In my defence it's not just him but part of an overall sex problem I have - I'm irresistibly attracted to floppy haired, public school, posh boys with their cut glass accents and raging arrogance. Which as defences go is pretty feeble I admit. Like I say, don't hate me. It's very disabling only being attracted to men who's politics you reject.

Except.. you know, I'm a bit of a Big Society fan. It seems it confuses most people, but the Big Society is one of those really simple yet fiendishly difficult to define concepts we'd all pretty much agree with if we could just pin it down a bit better. Big Society turned up at my door yesterday in the guise of a neighbour wanting a phone number, who left instructing me to just text her 'Bad Day' when I need a plate of food delivering to the door at teatime. Big Society is the 'meals on heels' team who all cook for me, it's that lovely Richard who pushed me home in the pouring rain when BendyBus broke down, and that Mike I just had a nice chat with down at The Bench about how to navigate the mazes of changes which threaten to drown you after a life changing medical event. Big Society is all about communities pulling together, strangers smiling at each other, and relationships developing.

But, once Housing Benefit is reduced I will have to pay more* from my other benefits to cover the increased rent shortfall. That's assuming I still receive those benefits, am not deemed fit for work by the work capability assessment and reassessed out of my entitlement to Disability Living Allowance in the drive to reduce overall eligibility. Any of those things would mean I'd have to attempt to relocate to a cheaper area, and the big society so well built in my immediate community would come tumbling down. My mini big society works because it is provided by people not in full time employment; stay at home mum's supported by their husbands, part time workers, those in receipt of benefits. It would take time to rebuild elsewhere and only works on such an immediate level when there are enough people at home during the day to provide it, so I'd have no choice but to approach the local authority to seek that support.  The cost in economic terms to the local authority, the NHS and central government would only pale in comparison to the human cost.

What Big Society is not and never will be is a replacement for state services. It can't provide wheelchairs to everyone, should not be providing personal care** support to anyone, and won't even steri strip the gaping wound caused by cutting such state services. Using it as a cover for such just cheapens something that we all know to be right and means I'm left even more disappointed by Dave than I am shamed of myself for fancying him in the first place.

Though I suspect I'm not the only one suffering from some self inflicted shame. Watch David Cameron every time a question about disability comes up. He doesn't just flush red on his neck like he does during PMQ's when someone scores a point, when the subject is disability he flushes red all the way up to his forehead and has the look of a man deeply troubled by his conscience. Because, give him his due, David Cameron seems genuinely and passionately committed to his Big Society and as a father was genuinely, passionately committed to the well being of his much loved late son Ivan. The increasing reports of families pushed beyond breaking point by the lack of state services feeling they have no choice but to place their children in vastly more expensive residential care must be a far more effective 3am wake up call than any crying baby.

*My current level of housing benefit is approximately £91 p/week
**personal care is help with activities such as washing, dressing, bathing or feeding.


Stu said...

Crush on Cameron? You're so twisted...

Mary said...

I'm not entirely sure if I'm agreeing or disagreeing with you when I say that Big Society HAS HAS HAS to be backed up by full and complete state support.

I'll give an example of what I mean. It's going to be a very silly, petty example (because I'm shying away from The Serious Stuff right now) but it demonstrates the point which can be applied to all sorts of other situations.

Every wheelchair user who has been pushed by another person knows about the "brrrm-brrrm" noises that certain people cannot resist making when pushing a chair. Except on very particular occasions, I absolutely HATE it. It makes me feel undignified, infantilised, and more than a little angry.

If a paid PA did it (and thankfully so far none of mine have) I would be able to say "stop that, I'm not a child or a toy." If they didn't stop it, I would be able to start a clearly defined disciplinary process to underline why it's important to me and make the request specific and written down. If after that they still couldn't stop it and I fired them, I would be able to employ a new PA.

But what can I do when the Big Society, in the form of friends, decide that they are going to do it? If I say "stop that," are they going to feel offended? Since there's no income, they won't feel worried about losing the job - will they simply withdraw all the help they are giving me? If they do, will I be able to find another Big Society helper? They almost certainly won't work a notice period to give me time to find someone new.

So I fear that Big Society leaves me sitting silently in my wheelchair, with no control, feeling unable to voice frustration at my loss of dignity for fear of losing all my help for good.

(Less of an issue with my new chair, but I'm only one fried circuit away from attendant-propelled.)

Stu: I know. I need help. Call me!

Iba said...

Finally, I feel able to confess: I snogged a Tory once.

Mary: That sounds like we're in COMPLETE agreement then! Xx

On paper, it's a great idea; it's tribal and small village and when we had that sort of societal system, it worked.

But "societies" or "civilisations" at large didn't have that kind of encompassing ability - people are too busy; too busy making more money, too busy taking care of finances, too busy preparing for their retirement plans and climbing up the ladder. The problem with Big Society is when you get THAT Big, someone is going to suffer. It's just too....big.

I have friends who are all on the spectrum of suffering through cuts and we are all therefore trying to find ways to take care of each other somehow. Honestly we had to do it before, and we're having to do it even more now. But again, that sort of small-time village sentiment only works if the ruling Lord/Fiefholder/Government doesn't come charging in demanding a higher raise of tax/greater amount of grain/rights to all the virgin girls on a particular month. When that happens, people tend to get miffed and rebel - rather loudly, in fact.

WIthout getting over socio-economic, I can only say that what history seems to have proven is when a society gets to this point, it collapses, or there's a rebellion. And no, I'm not saying that in the hackneyed overquoted "if you forget history you are doomed to repeat it" - we KNOW the history. It's just that it is repeated regularly as the Powers That Be seem to feel all the hundreds of civilisations which came before them must somehow have been ignorant in some way...we take history as a direct blueprint. The problem is, the blueprint is inherently flawed.

I'm waiting for the revolution, personally. History shows it's only a matter of time.

Oya's Daughter: Exactly, revolutions are SO Big Society!

Tony Holden said...

All I can say is revel in your perverse desires :-)

Anonymous said...

Never mind David Cameron. You want to watch some of the other company you keep. You're setting yourself up for a fall and you will get hurt unless you're a bit more careful.

Anonymous: Please do pick a name dear...especially as that sounds awfully close to a threat!

Sue Marsh said...

Anonymous - Sinister!! Do you not give your name because you're too cowardly to confess who would make pseudo-threats or because you are trying to give my friend a genuine warning?

Oh don't rise to the bait, people, c'mon "obvious troll is obvious"

Double Karma said...

To the Anonymous poster, me do not likely, you sound scarey.

Shona said...

Big society is a good idea if it will improve quality of life for some people. It is a very bad idea if people end up depending on the good will of others for their everyday needs. One needs to be able to depend on something more reliable and permanent than that.

TiddK said...

"Ello, ello, ello, what's going on 'ere then? Move along, move along, nothing to see. Now then.." [licks pencil] "..what's your name then? Anonymous, hm. How do you spell that?

"Now then Mr Anonymous, we can't 'ave threats being uttered, ho no, we can't. Now I must advise you to run along and don't annoy people. Don't let me catch you here again.

"Oh, you wish to report some lost property too. Let me see.. so what 'ave you lost then? Most of your brain cells, you say ...?"

RockHorse said...

So, so true BG! My own little big society has variously gone through phases of both expansion and contraction as the lives of our friends, families and neighbours change. Willingness to help each other out doesn't (necessarily) change but availability, proximity and strength/energy does. We all need there to be efficient and timely help available from State/Council/NHS services for the people and/or the times when social networks/communities are NOT there.

Re: floppy-haired chaps. I have a friend who has the fiercest crush on *whispers quietly* b-o-r-i-s-j-o-h-n-s-o-n... and feel free to add my own dirty secret: *ahem* Michael Portillo.


Kingmagic said...

Dont tell mum lil sis...
Will be posting again on my site soon...thought I,d let you know first.
Take care...
Big Bro Kingmagic

"I have a crush on David Cameron." I would see your doctor immediately. This is obviously some sort of side effect of medication!

Dave said...

Big Society sounds like a good idea BUT
The reality is that the council chiefs will shut everything down, blaming the Tory cuts (what cuts btw? The budgets are only being frozen)The former town clerks and fatcat councillors will continue to take their huge salaries and contribution free pensions having laid off all the staff. We will I suspect be able to "bid" (beg) for scraps of cash to fund "volunteer" organisations (staffed by now unemployed people who did the job previously and were employed by the council)

I was once chairman of a community transport and shopmobility scheme. Both were started by people with good intentions. They did a great job getting the schemes off the ground, publicised and paid for by council and charity funding. The original people died/left and both schemes foundered. Now we have nothing. I give the Big Society ten years.
After that you/we're on our own.

(and the council chiefs and politicians will be retired on inflation proof pensions)
Bitter? Moi?

Neil80 said...

It's an excellent point you raise. On the face of it the idea of the Big Society is great, but the problem I have with the big society is that it seems to be about filling in the gaps left by rolling-back the state. For this purpose it is wholly inadiquate for so many reasons, morst of them being the reasons why the welfare state was developed in the first place.

As an interesting aside though I'm reading The Spirit Level at the moment which argues that we are all much more cooperative and civic-minded in more equal societies.

Wheelie said...

Thank you for making me smile :)


notcrazy said...


seems DB has something tosay about the big society too ;)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I'm a disabled ex-pat Brit living in LA. I've only just found this blog and it's made me realise once more just how lucky I am to be in the situation I am. I don't have money worries, I have a wonderful, loving husband and a nice place to live, and I have work (i.e. academic research) to do as and when I can (not much). Yet I still come close to 'giving up' (euphemism) once a month or so.

I saw the Tories at work in the 80's. Now they're at it again, attacking their most vulnerable felllow-citizens from positions of privilege and security, and I am so glad, for myself, that I am not in their clutches—but my disabled sister is, and I am really worried about what will happen to her. Your blog will help me keep up with the problems she faces, and what, if anything, can be done about them. (I'm a UK tax-payer still, so I have that dog in the fight as well.) Thank you.

Unknown said...

so basically your argument is that Dave is not evil, just merely stupid?