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Cuts threaten 'Big Society', says new report

A new report released by the British Academy Policy Centre traces the origins of the ‘Big Society’ to long-run social movements of volunteers and co-operatives. It explains how government is undermining its own political buzzwords – in spite of the dazzling success of Olympic volunteers in summer 2012.

The report, The ‘Big Society’ and concentrated neighbourhood problems, written by Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy at LSE, explores the ‘Big Society’ and sets out 3 key messages:

•The idea of ‘the Big Society’ has its roots in the early models of mutual aid and co-operation born of the harsh necessities of the industrial revolution.
• Community level organisations, advocated by 'Big Society’, need support from the state as well as citizen involvement – historically, these organisations encouraged the emergence of the state in order to support communities.
• Cuts put at risk the ability of charities and community organisations to carry the burden of implementing the 'Big Society' in the poorest area.

Professor Power says: “The ‘Big Society’ idea cannot survive in a vacuum. It needs both citizen involvement, voluntary stakeholders and also a clear public framework of support endorsed by local and national governments. Current cuts in public spending are undermining the long-run community infra-structure, built-up over time alongside the evolution of the state. It was community action to help the poorest that showed the need for government in the first place. State withdrawal particularly undermines the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.”

The report concludes that the ability of local communities to tackle local problems relies on a strong, supportive public framework and the overarching, unifying role of government, as well as the initiative, commitment, and motivation of ordinary citizens.

It can be downloaded from The British Academy's website, www.britac.ac.uk|

Notes for editors

• For more information or interviews, please contact Kate Rosser Frost, Press & PR Manager at the British Academy on k.rosserfrost@britac.ac.uk or 020 7969 5263.
• The British Academy, established by Royal Charter in 1902, is the national body that champions and supports the humanities and social sciences. It aims to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement across the UK and internationally. For more information, please visit www.britac.ac.uk.
• The British Academy Policy Centre, draws on funding from ESRC and AHRC, oversees a programme of activity, engaging the expertise within the humanities and social sciences to shed light on policy issues, and commissioning experts to draw up reports to help improve understanding of issues of topical concern. This report has been peer reviewed to ensure its academic quality. Views expressed in it are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by the British Academy but are commended as contributing to public debate.

Posted Tuesday 11 September 2012