You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Big Society’ tag.

Bookmark and ShareAnna Coote is Head of Social Policy at nef.

The government wants to build a ‘Big Society’ at the same time as a imposing a very big squeeze on spending for public services.  This will not work unless spending is focused more sharply on preventing needs arising or intensifying ,and on supporting individuals and groups so that they can do more to help themselves and each other.

The danger is that the first victims of the squeeze will be the very things that are essential for preventing harm, improving well-being and encouraging self-help and mutual aid.  Examples include healthy and appetising school meals, child care services, open access to swimming and other sports, community meeting places, training and other resources for local groups, ‘social prescribing’ by GPs, out of school activities for young people, programmes to keep older people active and socially connected, more and better green spaces in urban areas, and much more.  Cuts in these areas will only push up demand for services in the longer run.

Read more about nef‘s take on the Big Society; why we think prevantative public services are valuable, especially for children; how welfare can be transformed to meet the economic and climate crises; and how co-production can improve the experience of service users and public servants.

Advertisements

Today sees the publication of a report from the think-tank Demos which argues that supermarkets should be seen as an intergral part of creating the so-called ‘Big Society’. The report’s author said:

“[The supermarkets] have a role to play in helping deprived communities to regenerate by reducing stigma, boosting community morale and bringing low-cost quality produce into the area. It’s easy to be cynical about mainstream retail chains, but they can be the game-changer for transforming perceptions within and outside rundown neighbourhoods.”

The only problem being that, in the USA at least, supermarkets have been linked with a decline in civic life and the closure of those very institutions that the Big Society claims to promote.

When two economists, Stephan Goetz and Anil Rupasingha, carried out a detailed study [1] in the US of the links between Wal-Mart and “social capital” – the community cohesion and mutual support that makes neighbourhoods work – they were astonished to find that the presence of a Wal-Mart nearby brought the voting turn-out down.

Other measures of social capital went down too. They found that communities that gained a Wal-Mart during the decade had fewer local charities and local associations such as churches, campaign and business groups per capita than those that did not. But why?

It seems that by crushing smaller businesses and losing the local knowledge and relationships they embody, the supermarket economic model – used by its UK subsidiary Asda, and widely copied by rivals such as Tesco – cuts the threads that hold an engaged community together. Big supermarkets, often lured by grants into regeneration areas, have not acted as useful anchors but instead have competed, often unfairly, with the surrounding businesses – sucking money out of the local economy.

Governments have mistaken being “big business-friendly” with being pro-enterprise. And supermarkets have not only killed the rich diversity of producers, suppliers and shops that are essential to a resilient economy, they are also dissolving the glue that holds communities together.

____________________________

[1] Stephan J. Goetz and Anil Rupasingha (2006) ‘Wal-mart and social capital’, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol 88, No 5.

ABOUT

This blog is operated by nef (the new economics foundation).

Follow us on:
Vimeo
Twitter
Flickr

ARCHIVES

CATEGORIES

Put People First
Airplot - join the plot
nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.