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Big Society: Diverse voices

Thursday 12th August 2016, 17:08

I am finding it difficult to discuss the idea of Big Society with people in the community, friends and in local neighbourhoods as most if not all haven't got a clue what the Big Society is! This goes to the heart of politics and government policies which tend to be top-down, and the new coalition governments big idea - The Big Society - is just that, but with a rhetoric of 'empowering communities'.

In the 'real world' many people see the Big Society as an attempt by the Government to dignify its cuts agenda by dressing up withdrawal of support with the language of 'people power' and reinvigorating civil society. Those communities that are the most marginalised and excluded tend to be very cynical about any government policy as they have not seen any real re-distribution of wealth under 13 years of a Labour Government. Instead, the gap between the rich and poor has increased, so what chance have they under the current administration? The Big Society is designed to restore people's trust in the political process and give us all the 'tools' to mend 'broken Britain', but I wonder who broke it in the first place?

No-one is disagreeing with the fact that things will be different and there are difficult times ahead, however asking communities to do the job of public sector staff by running services themselves with limited resources is a recipe for failure. Many of them are not in a position to fill all the gaps as public services are cut. This will have a huge impact on diverse communities from ethnic backgrounds in particular and other equalities groups, and my fear is that within the current debates the voices of the most marginalised and excluded communities will be further drowned out as the cuts start to bite.

Big Society in the North is an attempt to do things in a different way by claiming Big Society for ourselves and an opportunity to be resourceful. After a successful first gathering, momentum is picking up and there are opportunities to open up the debate using a combination of ideas and tools that are available both online and offline. There are various groups developing with new ways of thinking and doing, for example community news stories on noticeboards in local supermarkets, encouraging offline groups to participate and get their information out to the wider world and, hot off the press, a Big Society in the North audio channel on iPadio.

The idea is to ensure that diverse voices are heard and involved in making the Big Society their own. I would be interested to hear your views about how best to involve people and groups that are 'often forgotten' (hard-to-reach) so that we can continiously improve and be accessible to all but, in particular, the most marginalised and isolated individuals and groups.

Tanwir Rauf, SSEC Development Officer - Practice

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