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Economic Justice

Big Society has failed, three year Civil Exchange study concludes

 The Big Society project to hand power back to the people has largely failed against its own measures, leaving the country more divided, with less influence over decisions and receiving less accountable services, according to a landmark study by independent think tank Civil Exchange, published today.


Whose Society? The Final Big Society Audit, the culmination of a three-year investigation into a key initiative of the Coalition Government, finds that the Big Society – using its own criteria of empowering communities, opening up public services and stimulating social action – has not, despite some positive initiatives – delivered the radical change that David Cameron promised.


The study by Civil Exchange sounds a warning for the next government, saying that it must be genuinely inclusive, target those most in need and harness the energy of the voluntary and private sectors if what follows the Big Society does not to repeat the Big Society’s mistakes.


Whose Society? makes key recommendations for the next government including a shift in government and public sector culture to make it work far more collaboratively with civil society, a civil society-led Commission on using existing resources to create a fairer society, and a major review of public sector contracting, ensuring services work in the interests of those they mean to serve, particularly those whose needs are greatest.


Using detailed analysis and data from a wide range of government and other authoritative sources, Whose Society? finds that, despite significant investment in Big Society schemes, including for volunteering and local decision making:


  • Only 34% of people now feel they can influence decision in their local area – a significant decrease against every year since 2001.
  • Civic participation (from 41% to 30%) has dropped sharply since 2013, with civic consultation and activism also down.
  • Despite over 2000 uses of Community Rights since the introduction of the Localism Act (2011), local authorities have seen their powers to respond to local need, such as in education, severely constrained.
  • The proportion of people who feel they belong to their neighbourhood has dropped from 78% to 70% since 2013, the lowest level since 2005.
  • Though 88% of charities have seen a rise in demand for their services, only 32% now feel they can meet this need and there is no convincing government strategy for filling the funding gap left by public sector cuts, particularly for those serving communities with the greatest needs.
  • Far from opening up public services, private sector “quasi monopolies”, which are largely unaccountable, and the largest of which have experienced serious service failures, now dominate contracts to deliver public services.


Whose Society? The Final Big Society Audit reviews what has been happening against key Big Society commitments made by this Government, and draws on a wide range of research and other sources to present a unique and comprehensive audit. It is the third in a series, with the previous Big Society Audit being published in December 2013.  Read Big Society Audit 2013.