Will we know when we’re a Big Society?

Blancmange. That’s the latest definition I’ve heard for the concept of Big Society. I think the speaker at the Inside Government conference, was trying to explain that it can mean anything and everything. From wholesale public service reform to looking out for your neighbour. Indeed Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said of the Big Society: “If I had a plan, it would be the wrong plan. The big society will look a bit chaotic and disorderly.”

Photo: Peter__Brown (Creative Commons)

Despite its comparison to a wobbly pink pudding, there are some concrete activities going on in the name of Big Society that has the potential to impact all of our lives. There are proposals in the Giving Green Paper to increase philanthropy and get more people giving their time and money. More power is being devolved to local government and communities through the Localism Bill currently going through parliament (more information in our second reading briefing). Radical public service reform is being debated through consultations on modernising commissioning and supporting a stronger civil society.

And the timetable of Bills, consultations, and speeches on Big Society continues apace. Not to forget that this is happening against a backdrop of spending cuts. With this in mind it is sometimes difficult to see the final step and what society will then look like. What we do know is that the pace of change is fast and will have a significant impact on the experiences, opportunities and services for older people. So if we want to get involved in Francis Maude’s chaotic Big Society we need to decide what we expect from it.

We’ll be debating the opportunities and risks at our annual policy conference Agenda for Later Life on 8 March, with a dedicated seminar to try and get to the bottom of what Big Society means for later life. Let us know what you expect from a Big Society – do you think it is something you can get involved with and will improve your community?

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