Friday, 31 December 2010

The 'Big Society' or a veil to mask massive cuts?

When you look at those regular lists you see in the newspapers at this time of year about new words and phrases which have come in to our lexicon one term you will undoubtedly see is 'Big Society'.

For months in the run up to the general election Mr Cameron kept telling us how he wanted to deliver it. We heard that the 'Big Society' was something to do with charities and volunteering in our community although even many of the Tories didn't know what he was talking about, let alone the rest of us.

Well, at last I think I have figured out some of Mr Cameron's plans.

You may have seen in the past couple of days the government have produced a white paper about how donations to charities can be increased. Many suggestions are being contemplated to drive up donation levels from allowing you to donate on ATM machines through to 'rounding up' your shopping as a charitable donation.

Now in itself these options, and the ones that go with it in the white paper, are all ones that should be at least considered - and if they contribute to an increase in charitable income they would of course be welcome - but my question is why are the government taking such an interest in this area right now? And I think the answer is obvious for two reasons.

Firstly, as we see prices in shops go up and taxes increase inevitably one of the things that will drop will be our willingness to give to charity.

Cabinet Minister Francis Maude suggested we could all donate 1% of our income to raise £4 billion for charity. Does this man not realise we will already be spending an extra 2.5% of our wages in a couple of days time in his governments regressive tax rises?

Secondly and whilst more 'hidden' many charities rely for a significant part of their income from grant-funding bodies such as local government or the national lottery. The simple reason for this is that historically the charity has been better placed in the community to deliver services in a more cost-efficient and personalised way than a funding body ever could. Of course with  large cuts to local government budgets we are seeing even more significant cuts to charities.

Many charities are fully aware that for these two reasons they will not survive the next couple of years and many vital commmunity-based services will be lost forever.

It is not just the public-sector that is reeling from the tory-led governments cuts. The charity sector will be hit harder than ever before and the only thing that will go to make us a 'bigger society' will be our communal experience of higher taxes and less services!

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