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Big Society humbug

by Henry Law

If “Big Society” sounds like a phrase dreamed up by a posh West End advertising agency, that is because it almost certainly is. Eventually we shall find out which one. I am all for voluntary work, community groups and the domestic economy. The value of their work probably far exceeds that of the formal economy. But the money economy was invented to facilitate the exchange of goods and services outside people’s immediate circle of friends. And taxes whatever form they take, have to be paid with real money. Thus this “great society” seems to be expecting people to do for nothing tasks for which they can reasonably expect to be rewarded in some way or other. To say nothing of how their are to survive, unless they have private means.

Of course we know that the government is short of funds, partly because the state is being expected to do all sorts of things that ought to be done by other means, and often not at all. This applies to the large amount of public spending on poverty relief, when such poverty should not exist in the first place.

Paradoxically, given the failure of politicians to do competently what they can reasonably be expected to do, people have come to expect the same politicians to deliver that which lies within the gift of the Almighty. That cannot go on. It is also the case that much of the informal and voluntary sector takes place under the umbrella of religious organisations, and for a variety of reasons, including the collapse of faith, the decline of the traditional family and mismanagement. Within in particular some of the Christian denominations, there has been conspicuous misbehaviour followed by apparent inaction by the church authorities. But the same charges can be levelled at the heart of government itself. Society is indeed broken, and in Britain probably more than elsewhere in Europe.

Parliament is inevitably made up of people just like the rest of us, but even if it were composed entirely of men and women beyond reproach, government cannot do little to mend the damage at that level. Worse still – and this is inexcusable – it will not contemplate doing the one thing that is within its power – to reform the country’s immoral and inefficient tax system so that that which is private is left in private hands and that which is public is collected for the public good. What we have at the moment is a double robbery. Putting right this injustice must lie at the heart of any programme for a great society. Big Society – big humbug.