Why the ‘big society’ is frightening the young

The concept of the Big Society originates from before there was support for the most vulnerable people in our communities, and in which help came from the wider society. Such protection offered by the church, charities and communities was not state funded and grew out of communities, individuals and institutions organising themselves to provide services to the most disadvantaged.

It seems that big society means that as the state contracts “society” expands. Young people seem extremely anxious about cuts to public services specifically to youth services and the key source of their anxiety is the national and local media.

Young people have come to expect a level of service and support that is now being changed under the banner of “transformation and reform”. Getting young people themselves and local communities to do what the council did previously, is going to be difficult.

Young people have not been so politicised since the 1980s, when the government of the day was also cutting public services to reduce the nation’s financial deficit.
Perhaps conflict and politics go hand in hand, the challenge for professionals is to resolve that conflict peacefully and even create a new social contract in which service users are not just passive recipients but have a reciprocal relationship with professionals where services are co-produced. Then perhaps we can have a big society that includes young people as equal partners delivering a new public service together.

Libraries that lend people?

Community leaders should look at novel ways of helping and enticing individuals to learn and up-skill themselves. Instead of solely relying on the lending out of physical and electronic books, libraries could be lending out knowledgeable people. This could be a unique service in which the public can borrow volunteers with particularly interesting skills or histories. Once requested,the lender could meet their “living book” in the library’s cafe for hour-long, one to one sessions.

People that have a wealth of experience in particular fields of interest, and that are now either in retirement,or have lost their jobs through economic circumstances, could volunteer themselves out to Adult Education providers and to university students in need of practical advice from someone that has been there and done particular subject before.

On the other end of the spectrum, the younger generation could impart skills and knowledge to the older generation, with skills and knowledge taught to them in today’s classrooms around the country.

This would also create an environment, for people from different backgrounds and age groups, to come together with shared knowledge, to improve the society in which they live.