Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Big Society

David Cameron says it is his mission in politics to make the Big Society succeed – see his recent speech on the subject – although opponents claim it is being wrecked by spending cuts, or even that the whole idea was motivated by the need to reduce government spending in the first place. But there seems little doubt that, from well before the election, the Big Society was the Big Idea in Cameron’s mind. The BBC recently reported that the PM had told social entrepreneurs that the initiative would get “all his passion" over the five-year Parliament. The government has also set out details of a Big Society bank to fund voluntary projects. But it isn’t just about volunteering. A “Localism Bill” has already defined numerous ways in which the Coalition aims to encourage local and regional initiative, as part of an intended reduction in bureaucratic red tape and centralized management.

In my booklet Catholic Social Teaching: A Way In, some years ago, I quoted the English expert on Catholic social teaching, Roger Charles SJ: “civil society is… founded on respect for person and family, a morally responsible citizenry knowing its rights and fulfilling its duties, built up though a network of voluntary organisations, social, political and economic, and based on respect for morally responsible freedom.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it!  The question is, can the government get a Big Society to flourish at a time of massive cuts in social services, widespread unemployment, a rising cost of living, and a decline in religious adherence? Have the real roots of the recent financial crisis been addressed? Has the government taken on board other important elements of Catholic social teaching, such as the critique of consumerism, the concern for social justice, the understanding of marriage as the bedrock of society, and the sanctity of the unborn? These and other elements of the teaching make up a coherent whole, and one part of the teaching won’t work if the others are not integrated with it.

This blog entry is based on one I wrote for the new CTS blog Catholic Compass.

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