Big society will be broken by spending cuts, says think tank report

New Economics Foundation says the voluntary sector faces an impossible task in filling the void left by the state

Anna Coote, head of social policy, NEF
Anna Coote, head of social policy, NEF

Spending cuts will break the big society and leave voluntary organisations facing an impossible task, according to a report published today by the think tank the New Economics Foundation.

Cutting It: The Big Society and the New Austerity, claims the speed and scale of cuts will result in a poorer society because voluntary organisations will not receive enough support to fill the void left by the state.

"Efforts to reduce the deficit will undermine the very networks and groups that are most needed as life gets tougher for those who are already disadvantaged," the report says.

The report is critical of the government’s vision for the big society, which it says "may be at odds with the character and purpose of many groups and organisations.

"People usually choose to participate in community activities when they find them optional, small-scale, convivial and life-enhancing, but many of the government’s plans for supporting civil society are conditional, formalised, complicated and hard graft," it says.

The report also claims that the programme "is ultimately at odds with the character and purpose of many groups and organisations" and threatens the nature of civil society by making it less diverse, spontaneous and free-spirited.

It says the £470m announced in the spending review for civil society will not go very far and the Office for Civil Society’s new Communities First fund "doesn’t begin to tackle the systemic causes of unfairness and exclusion".

To succeed, it says, the government must revise its policies on spending cuts to guarantee sustained support for third sector organisations and local government.

Anna Coote, head of social policy at the NEF and author of the report, said: "The cuts mean there is a much heavier responsibility for dealing with more acute poverty, unemployment, distress and social conflict. It is madness to imagine that in these conditions civil society can fill the gaps left by a retreating state."

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