Pilgrimpace's Blog


cuts can ruin the social fabric
April 1, 2011, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

The Editorial in this week’s The Tablet is worth pondering:

 

The problem with the Government’s spending cuts, which

are now beginning to bite, is not just that they go “too

far, too fast”, to use Labour’s favourite mantra. The

Government has fundamentally failed to grasp the com-

plex web of relationships by which the public services are woven

into society, affecting the lives of almost everyone in the UK.

Together with the economy itself, these elements constitute

an ecology, a finely balanced dynamic where disturbance of one

can disturb all the others. Three articles in this week’s Tablet,

by Chris Blackhurst, Terry Philpot and William Keegan, take

the analysis of government policy into territory which Labour

needs urgently to explore, but has so far failed to. There is a

great opportunity here for others too to subject government

policy to rigorous scrutiny, as the Catholic bishops could as part

of their Common Endeavour project, which they are promot-

ing at a conference in London this coming week.

The key to the Government’s misunderstanding is in a frank

remark by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, that David

Cameron’s Big Society project is aimed at “breaking the

monopolies of the public services” and the “monolithic state

providers”. Yet as Terry Philpot points out, the bulk of social

services are no longer run by local councils but by voluntary

organisations. So Mr Maude is guilty of a factual error that is

bound to send government policy off in the wrong direction.

It is also wrong in theory. Its flawed premise –as in Mr

Cameron’s claim to believe in “the big society, not big

Government” –is that Government and the voluntary sector

are part of a zero-sum equation, in which society gets bigger

as Government gets smaller. If civil society is a good thing,

Government is therefore bad –a dangerous conclusion.

The Government also misunderstands the nature of philan-

thropy as a motive behind civil society. It believes that if the

public sector contracts, people will plug the gaps with their own

time and money. But the wellsprings of altruism lie elsewhere

and have little to do with the size of the public sector. As Chris

Blackhurst explains, poorer people are the best givers. Those

few who have become much richer in the last two decades have

failed to increase their charitable donations proportionately

(or at all).

There is also an assumption that the voluntary sector is run

by amateurs. In fact, each major charity will have a profes-

sional (and reasonably well-paid) chief executive and will employ

qualified full-time staff at the going rate. They will probably

rely on the taxpayer, in one form or another, for half or more

of their charity’s income. If the charity reins back its activi-

ties because of falling income, those who rely on them most

will suffer most.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel, to make all the hard-

ship worthwhile? Could a society focused on the common good

eventually emerge, despite these policy flaws? The Government’s

one hope of economic recovery, as William Keegan writes, is

through growth in manufacturing. That requires rising

demand for the goods manufactured. Yet everything else the

Government has done ensures people have less money to spend.

“Too far, too fast” hardly does justice to what is happening, which

is a threat to the very fabric of society.

 

 

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