Millions left behind in the Big Society, says Civil Exchange report

Millions of people are being left behind, and the charities that help them are being shut out from David Cameron’s faltering Big Society project, according to a new report published today.

The Big Society Audit 2013, released by think tank Civil Exchange, warns that a radical review of Big Society thinking is needed and says that, despite the rhetoric:

People with disabilities – 8% of the population – will bear 29% of the cuts, with a similar picture for people living in poverty

500,000 people are now dependent on food aid

Only 1 in 5 people in the most deprived areas now feel they can trust others, compared to nearly three quarters in the most affluent parts of Britain

Funding for charities serving disadvantaged groups has been the most affected since the Coalition came to power, with many now ‘running on empty’ and further cuts due to fall.

The Big Society Audit also warns that many public services now lie in the hands of a virtual monopoly of unaccountable ‘mega-corporations,’ despite a Big Society commitment to diversify and make public services more accountable and responsive.

Just four multinationals – Atos, Capita, G4S and Serco - now control £4 billion of government public service contracts, despite revelations in some cases of overcharging, poor performance and an inability to meet obligations.

The Audit also reports a ‘race to the bottom’ on contracts that is leading, for example, to 15-minute home care visits for elderly and disabled people.

However, on a positive note, the Big Society Audit says that there has been significant growth in communities taking control of local amenities with over 100 pubs listed as community assets, 425 community libraries open or due to open and 303 community shops.

And the level of volunteering has also risen.

Director of Civil Exchange and principal author of the report, Caroline Slocock, said: “Millions of people, especially those who might need it most, are being excluded from the Big Society, as cuts hits them hardest and trust in others – the social glue that holds the Big Society together – fails to bind disadvantaged communities.

“It is government’s bias towards the private sector that is killing the idea of the Big Society, while the charities to which people in need turn are left out in the cold.

"It’s time for politicians to match actions to words. A good start would be to value the not-for-profit experts who have the know how to help them tackle complex and costly social problems and the capacity to deliver public services on a human scale.”

The Big Society Audit calls for:

A new model for public services that draws on the specific strengths of the voluntary sector and volunteers in working with people, particularly in local communities

More investment in early action, using the knowledge of voluntary groups, to help solve difficult and complex social needs at their root

Increased investment in the social infrastructure that supports disadvantaged groups and communities, ensuring vital voluntary and community groups can thrive

Bringing the Big Society to business, especially in the delivery of public services, ensuring it operates ethically, pays decent wages and guarantees not to cut costs at the expense of quality

Increase public sector understanding of the potential of the voluntary sector with joint working and designing services collaboratively.

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