The laissez-faire big society

Polly Toynbee had an excellent piece in yesterday’s Guardian here.

While to a degree I think she was venting her own bitter disillusion with the Lib Dems and taking the opportunity to thrash Simon Hughes — Toynbee has periodically endorsed the LIb Dems as a tactical voting choice and in 1983 stood as an SDP candidate — I recommend it here not for its party political dimension but because it gave a brilliant example of why current austerity-plus-big-society tactics are producing civil society disintegration rather than growth and good health.

She focuses on the Salmon youth centre in Bermondsey. Despite being a new purpose-built centre it has now lost a significant proportion of its staff and has cut services as its funding dries up. Toynbee (and her research is usually damned good) claims that the centre has lost around 80% of its funding from 43 different sources.

Many conventional voluntary organisations (and youth services have been especially hard and quickly hit) are caught in this same situation as the various programmes they have previously delivered under simply disappear.

If you have struggled to try and explain to anyone why big society rhetoric coupled with laissez-faire economics applied to the markets and to civil society makes for a uniquely challenging combination, then Toynbee’s article will help you.

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