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By Tom Traynor, Research Project Manager, Directory of Social Change
In our September Quick Survey we asked:
Do you think more people are volunteering as a result of Big Society?
|95% ||No |
There were 500 responses, including 145 written comments. A selection of the comments is provided below, following the main themes of opinion which appear in bold.
The overwhelming majority of respondents believed that the Government’s Big Society rhetoric was having no influence on volunteering levels. Many respondents suggested that any increase in volunteering was due to the fact that a greater number of people have more free time as they have lost their jobs:
"I think more people are volunteering because they can't find paid work or have been made redundant."
"If volunteer numbers have increased that will be […] the previously employed who have been made unemployed by government cuts; or volunteers doing jobs once done by paid employees. Either way, this is not good."
"There may be more people volunteering as the result of redundancy in order to enhance their CVs and more organisations using volunteers to replace previously funded jobs, but I doubt that the Big Society's advocates would admit that that was how they wanted it to work."
"We have seen an increase in interest in volunteering long before the ‘Big Society’. It is related to unemployment NOT government policy."
There was also a strong theme running through the comments that the Government is attempting to take advantage of the goodwill that has already existed in society, and to appropriate it for its own ends:
"‘Big Society’ is a smart attempt to play on what people are already doing and claim credit. It is possible that it is also an attempt to reduce services and put the guilt on [the] public if they don't step up to the plate."
"‘Big Society’ is what has been happening among voluntary groups for years - just giving it a 'name' makes no difference, especially when linked to so many real cuts in statutory services!"
"There is already a lot of volunteering going on, much more than the government has given credit to! I'm also not a fan of converting paid jobs e.g. librarians into volunteer jobs, we wouldn't ask bankers to work for nothing! Well maybe we should!!"
"We've always had big society. What does the Government think the voluntary sector has been doing for the past hundred years?!"
"Cameron may claim what many of us have been doing for many years."
Many respondents also expressed strong cynicism about the Big Society generally, and the Government’s underlying motives:
"Who would want to volunteer when the people that manage them are losing their jobs? 90% of the community groups in our area are under threat of closure, including ourselves."
"Those of us in work are concentrating on keeping our jobs, those of us without jobs are concerned about finding one. The ‘Big Society’ is a fantasy."
"There is no Big Society - its David Cameron's PR machine in overdrive!"
"[The Big Society] is a con to cover ideologically driven cuts!"
"If the numbers are increasing I doubt that the ill-defined and muddled thinking of a policy buzz-word is the reason!"
"A big waste of money…"
"In my opinion, the Big Society is a complete con. Why encourage people to volunteer on the one hand and on the other hand cut the funding and staff of the very charities, many of them local and small, which depend on volunteers? I believe most of the public see through this sleight of hand and are understandably angry about it."
Ongoing confusion about what the Big Society means was also a recurring theme for many respondents:
"I was at a conference on the Big Society and even the Government minister speaking was confused. Nobody knows what it means because it's meaningless…"
"I'm not sure that people know what the Big Society is."
"Like most people I have no idea what it is supposed to be. Big Government replaced by the Big Society, I don't think so."‘Most people I talk to don't even seem to know what Big Society is.’
"No one really understands the Big Society and feel that the Government is just passing the buck."
"Not sure people really know what the Big Society is. Those who would usually volunteer are continuing to do so."
"We are getting roughly the same number of volunteers as usual. None of them ever mentions the Big Society. I don't think they give a t*** about it!"
"WTF is the big society? Cameron hasn't got a Scooby."
And finally, there were a few comments that suggested that the Big Society was having a positive effect on volunteering:
"This [is] creating [an] awareness of volunteering."
"Yes, I am [volunteering] and I know many people who are."