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David Cameron's Big Society: LGBT Concerns

Tue 14 Jun 2011 In: Comment

Given the Cameron/Key axis, it's likely that the Key administration will try to adopt some of David Cameron's 'Big Society' rhetoric in our own context. What is the "Big Society' concept and should we be worried about it? According to British Prime Minister David Cameron, the "Big Society" is all about local empowerment and devolved authority through encouragement of volunteerism, decentralisation, support for charities and local enterprises and open government. However, Cameron's critics are sceptical of this rhetoric, noting that during the tenure of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government, there have been cuts in government donations to charities. In the case of the UK Terrence Higgins Trust, these have been to prevention and testing funds, which has been attacked by Johann Hari and others as counterproductive and liable to cause increased needs for downstream government health expenditure. The British Labour Party, Unite and Unison trade unions, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and New Economics Foundation have all argued that this 'civil society' and 'active citizenship' rhetoric is Tory spin. They contend that the envisaged devolution and decentralisation may well lead to fragmentation and service gaps in welfare policy and provision, and that any pretence that they can replace centralised government social services is a myth. Richard Seymour has also noted a worrying conservative religious subtext in this mythology of devolution and decentralisation and has expressed concern that it will lead to homogenous conservative rural and provincial service providers enshrining exclusion of LGBT and other socially marginalised clients into policy and practice. While we might well be concerned at this picture of neutral government social services outsourced to possibly homophobic and transphobic conservative and religious social service agencies or networks, UK Channel 4 Dispatches (14.03.2011) documentary sounded another ominous warning note in this context. As with Wisconsin's privatised social security and employment placement assistance, Serco, Capita and G4S (formerly the Securicor Group) have moved into the retrenched and privatised employment placement roles vacated by the public service. Left unanswered is the question of commitment to antidiscrimination and equal opportunities legislation amongst these corporates, and indeed, how strongly these laws will be applied. Although the Liberal Democrats will no doubt do their best to insure that is the case, antidiscrimination laws are the province of central government agencies when it comes to their enforcement, and the Tories are committed to swingeing public service cuts. Is this our future too? Will Cameron's "Big Society" rhetoric be echoed by local backers of the Cameron/Key axis like the Maxim Institute? If so, how will that affect low-income, beneficiary, dependent PLWA and other marginal members of our own communities? Recommended: Jesse Norton (ed) Big Society: The Anatomy of the New Politics: Buckingham: Buckingham University Press: 2010. Richard Seymour: The Meaning of David Cameron: London: Orca Books: 2010. Craig Young - 14th June 2011    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Tuesday, 14th June 2011 - 11:31am

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