Editorial: The sector is full of foreboding

We need to hear more about how the big society will mitigate the effect of the coming cuts, says Stephen Cook

In the week since the Budget, charities have been looking at the headline figures of George Osborne’s cuts in public spending and beginning to calculate the effects they are likely to have on families and communities in the UK. Organisations dealing with housing, health, social welfare and debt are all full of foreboding. You cannot take a quarter of spending out of nearly all government departments over four years without sending the nation into shock. Maybe this is what David Cameron meant when he said before the Budget that our whole way of life was going to change.

Charities are already carrying an extra burden of social distress, and that will only increase in the coming years. The voluntary income of the biggest charities is holding up well, as today’s Charity Market Monitor shows, but the news comes with a warning that in future years the amount of earned income is likely to slide as the cuts take effect. The mantra of ‘doing more with less’ will be carved on the doorway of more and more voluntary groups.

In these circumstances it is increasingly important that we hear more about the big society from the government than pious rhetoric and the gnomic utterances of Lord Wei. There are various big society-related initiatives in the pipeline that might help cushion the worst effects of the cuts on communities, including the Communities First fund, the Big Society Bank and the National Citizen Service. But the danger is that by the time such schemes are up and running, valuable projects and organisations all round the country will have gone to the wall.

Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, predicted 10 days ago that as the public spending ‘cake’ became smaller the third sector would receive a larger slice of it. The first part of that proposition gets clearer every day, but the means of getting to the second part of it remains far from clear.

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