Big Society and Australia: how the UK Government is dismantling the state and what it means for Australia
It’s just over two years since David Cameron was elected as British Prime Minister. Since his election, Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ policies that have ‘redefined the role of the state’. By commissioning ‘any willing provider’, the UK Government has contracted corporations to play a dominant role in delivering a wide range of services that were previously managed by public servants or community groups. Other ‘Big Society’ changes have diminished the capacity of the public and community sectors. The impacts of the Big Society programs in the UK have included:
- An £81 billion cut in public spending over four years including an average 19 per cent budget cut to government agencies,60 per cent cut to the budget for new public housing and £7 billion cut to the welfare budget.
- The UK’s public service is expected to shrink by up to 710,000 public servants over six years.
- Corporations and the largest charities have dominated the commissioning process: 35 of 40 Work Programme (employment agency) contracts were awarded to corporations.
- Cameron’s budgets have dealt a £5 billion funding cut to the UK’s community sector and funding cuts of £110 million to 2,000 UK charities
- The number of people employed in the UK’s community sector fell by 70,000.
- Local government budgets were cut by more than a quarter in 2010-11 resulting in staff cuts of 10-20 per cent and widespread cuts to programs.
- During 2010-11, public sector employment fell by 4.3 per cent. Private sector employment increased by 1.5 per cent.
In Australia, ‘Big Society’ ideas are generating interest and support amongst conservative think tanks and politicians. This report presents a comprehensive analysis of the UK’s ‘Big Society’ policies and programs and examines their potential impact if adopted and implemented in Australia. The report is intended to contribute to an informed debate about the merits of ‘small government’ ideologies and policies that often receive less than critical media and political commentary.