David Cameron’s “Big Society” is still very present


Families in the UK are facing an economic catastrophe: with a cost of living crisis and recession looming, they have a government that seems unwilling to offer much support to those who need it most. Prime Minister Liz Truss has not pledged to increase benefits in line with inflation, while her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, has introduced sweeping tax breaks for the wealthy.

The burden of supporting those in need will, once again, fall on charities. Indeed, there have already been reports of food banks running out of supply, as price hikes have simultaneously forced more people to rely on them and reduced donations from the public.

But this trend predates the current crisis. Charities have taken over from the British welfare state for more than a decade.

In 2010, David Cameron launched the “Big Society” as part of the Conservative election manifesto that year. For its advocates, this was a true post-Thatcherite political ideal, whereby charities and other local actors who knew their communities well would step in and provide services previously run by the government. For its critics, it was a cynical cover-up of the government’s austerity programme, which led to an estimate 40% reduction in real terms in public services by 2020.

Whatever the intention, the charitable sector was forced to step up its efforts in the 2010s to support the most vulnerable in society in the face of the effects of austerity. Even after the Cameron years, however, the disparity has never been realigned: the UK is still much more dependent on charities for social support today than it was in 2010. It is hard to d get a full view of current conditions. As Rachel Statham, from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank, explained, “It’s hard to compare what the charitable sector looks like today versus pre-austerity, because it’s It’s such a dynamic sector that is continually evolving towards changing needs at a very localized level.

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But there are indications of what happened. One of them is food banks. Before austerity, food banks were a minor phenomenon, with 41,000 three-day food parcels distributed by the country’s largest food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, in 2009-2010. In 2014-15, this figure had reached 1.1 million; and in 2020-21 – long after the supposed end of former Chancellor George Osborne’s cuts scheme – it had reached 2.6million.

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Report after report has made it clear that this increase was related to rising costs and falling revenues, not improved access to services. A landmark multi-party parliamentary inquiry into UK hunger, published in 2014, said the rise in food banks harshly reflects how “the rising cost of living has hit Britain’s poorest households particularly hard.” Brittany”.

The same report hailed food bank volunteers as a “social Dunkirk”, but said the government could not continue to rely on the voluntary sector to provide social security. Nine years later, over 40,000 volunteers continue to give their time to support the Trussell Trust’s 1,200 food banks.

It is very difficult to establish a direct link between cuts in specific social benefits and the fact that charities are increasingly called upon to provide food and shelter. Nevertheless, the drop in public social security payments since 2010 has been brutal. At the same time, third sector forces are playing an increasingly important role in providing social safety nets.

Data shared with new statesman by the New Economics Foundation think tank shows that between 2010-11 and 2020-21, there was a reduction of £14 billion to the UK benefit system. In 2019, for example, the number of working-age households receiving benefits was 24% lower than in 2010. And the amount they receive has also fallen: in 2021, the unemployed received 12% less than in 2010. 2010, after adjusting for inflation.

Another way to track the extent to which charitable giving has replaced government action is to look at where charities get their money. Indeed, charities not only spend money given to them by the public: they also provide a range of services – from health care to environmental protection – on behalf of the government, using government money.

Data shows that charities now receive far less money from the government than they did before austerity, with private donors picking up a bigger share of the funding shortfall. In 2007-2008, the charitable sector received 36% of its revenue from the government, According to research by think tank Pro Bono Economics. By 2017-18, that figure had fallen to 29%, showing that the decline in government financial support has not recovered even years after Cameron left. New Philanthropy Capital predicted the charitable sector would lose up to £5.1 billion — or 40 percent of state funding — in the first round of government spending cuts after Cameron’s election.

What we are left with is a picture of exhausted government services and funding sources, and charities, increasingly reliant on public donations, trying to make up the difference. The latest economic crises will only worsen this already worrying situation.

“We are seeing rising energy bills and inflationary pressures at a level where there is really no precedent,” Latham said. “We know that charity budgets have already come under considerable pressure throughout austerity and more recently [in] the pandemic. And now they will be called upon to make up for the cruel lack of government action in the face of the cost of living crisis.

[See also: The Tories are trapped. What can they possibly do now?]


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