In search of the Big Society
The concept of social action and shared responsibility is the only way to fix a broken Britain.
By Dr Dan Poulter MP
Britain needs to change. We only have to look at the poverty, crime, high levels of substance misuse, and reduced life expectancy that exist in so many areas to realise that, until now, both people acting as individuals and the machinery of state intervention has failed some of the most vulnerable people in our country.
Traditionally, to tackle social problems, we have looked to self help or state intervention; but there is another way. As citizens, we have an inherent responsibility to each other, to look after each other, to demonstrate compassion and social responsibility. As individuals, we can do more to support the disadvantaged and the vulnerable, and indeed more to help ourselves, by acting together, through what we call the Big Society.
I first met David Cameron in early 2006, when I invited him to visit the Seaview Centre in St Leonards-on-Sea: a social action project at which I volunteered at that time, looking after the homeless and people with drug and alcohol misuse problems. David spoke then of the “victims of state failure,” people who had fallen through the net of the welfare state, who had hit rock bottom in their lives. At the Seaview Centre, local people identified a need in their community and acted on it, giving of their time to support vulnerable people to begin the process of rebuilding their lives.
Across Britain we see that the concept of shared responsibility and social action already exists in organisations like Mind. However, we only have to look at the social breakdown that is occurring in so many of our towns and cities to realise that we really do need to ‘do it differently this time’, and that is where the Big Society can make a difference.
The Conservative – Liberal Government has committed to making this a reality, encouraging volunteering and involvement in social action. One of our key priorities will be to support the creation and expansion of mutuals, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises, and support these groups to have much greater involvement in the running of public services.
We cannot simply rely on the state to look after the vulnerable and to tackle the ills of modern society. The state alone has failed too many people in the past, and we cannot allow it to go on. We need citizens coming together and taking ownership of the challenges and problems in our communities and neighbourhoods; that is what the Big Society is all about.
This article was featured in the November/December 2010 issue of Openmind (Issue 163).