In the week that the Conservatives are holding their annual conference, an opinion poll of voluntary sector workers was published. The poll asked whether they thought Cameron’s Big Society initiative had resulted in an increase in volunteering.
95% of those polled said no. If they’d seen any increase in volunteers, it had been as a result of people needing something to do with their time because they’d been thrown out of work.
Well, yeah, it’s an absolute shocker, isn’t it? Who would have thought the Big Society would turn out to be empty window-dressing? A meaningless lecture from a bunch of career politicians, lawyers and PR types, intended to make the decimation of our public services slightly more palatable.
Meanwhile, there are those of us who have invested our time and careers in society – doctors, teachers, social workers, nurses, voluntary sector workers. Some of us were doing it while Cameron was busy trashing restaurants with the Bullingdon Club. We’re starting to see the headlines about public sector cuts translating into services shrinking and in some cases disappearing.
I’m a worker bee in an NHS trust. Whether I speak to colleagues in my own trust or neighbouring ones, I hear the same words being uttered. Talk of recruitment freezes, of posts being deleted when people quit, constant memos offering voluntary early retirement schemes, offers to “buy” extra annual leave in exchange for a pay cut. No talk of actual redundancies…yet.
Part of my job involves liaising with other agencies – social services, schools, voluntary agencies. I hear the same talk with them, except in their case it’s even worse. We heard a lot of comforting assurings in the run-up to the general election of how the NHS would be “protected” from the cuts. In practice, “protected” has turned out to mean “a bit less awful”.
This blog will be about the actual society. Not the “Big Society” dreamed up by a political PR machine. It will be by and for those who work in or use health and social care services. Other authors will be joining and introducing themselves in the next few days.
The social consequences of the economic crisis have been severe, and there’s likely to be more to come. We intend to provide the dispatches from the front line. Watch this space.