This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Find out more here


To discuss how you and your organisation can get more involved with The Work Foundation, please contact us.

Call 020 7976 3575 or email

Chris  Brown

Honey, I blew up society

Authors: Chris Brown Chris Brown

07 June 2011

The saying goes ‘third time’s a charm’ but recently David Cameron re-launched his Big Society agenda for the fourth time – apparently the public has yet to grasp what this agenda actually means. To some this may seem like a bad case of déjà vu. Cast one’s mind back to Cameron’s campaign to become Conservative leader. ‘Big Society’ then paved a way for the now Coalition leader to sneak in ahead of Labour, with this same rhetoric proving highly effective during the elections held last year.  

So, are we any the wiser? Or is it just a positive slogan to turn to every so often to disguise the stuttering performance through the recession and the continued cuts and job losses? Some commentators have had enough, asking those in the driving seat, ‘Are we there yet or were we already?’

Big Society was initially launched as a strategy to employ a huge cultural change throughout the UK, devolving responsibility to the individual, neighbourhoods and communities at the heart of local issues- a promising concept. Last week’s speech reiterated this tried and tested ideology, once again bolstering public opinion by seeming to provide us with a variety of successfully implemented and or pending changes. However, the concept that underpins this agenda, community capacity/engagement, has and remains inherent among many in society – the ability and desire to help those around you.

It is hard not nit-pick at a number of aspects of this Big Society strategy to encourage locally driven growth with the wider implication of getting people into work and fuelling the economy. However, the idea of devolving responsibility and control of a vast array of local and national services into the hands of ‘society’ leaves an ambiguous view of what society is capable of and gives an impression of keeping the problems of society at arms length.

With the full impact of the public sector cuts still to hit and local authorities yet to feel the full effect of cuts to their spending power, ‘society’ is arguably yet to feel the full extent of the recession. Coupled with an economy that has been flat-lining for the past six months, these changes have left some questioning whether devolving the responsibility of growth onto a select few really is the correct response? On the one hand, the strategy argues that there is not enough self-responsibility with too many free handouts and too few questions asked. On the other, it argues more people can and should manage their own issues despite their purported inability to fend for themselves. It both flatters and disparages individual and community resilience and capability.

And, while at the heart of the Big Society agenda is the importance of strong relationships and togetherness, it is all the more ironic as tensions between Cameron and Clegg become more apparent – the ‘Big Society Tsar’ has already flown the family nest The premise of the Big Society is undoubtedly a good one, however this re-launch appears to be a tale of two stories:  ‘Honey, I shrunk the public sector…but I blew up society’.