House of Commons Library

The voluntary sector and the Big Society

Published Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Commons Library has published a Briefing Paper looking at the Big Society and the role of the voluntary and community sector.

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The Prime Minister’s concept of a “Big Society” was a much talked about element of the Conservative Party Manifesto of 2010 and then the Coalition’s Programme for Government. The concept involves three main strands:

  • opening up public services – enabling voluntary organisations, charities, and social enterprises to compete to offer public services
  • social action – encouraging and enabling people to play a more active part in society
  • community empowerment – giving local councils and neighbourhoods more power to take decisions and shape their area

Subsequent policy developments included the introduction of a National Citizen Service, the setting up of Big Society Capital, a renewed Compact agreement, and measures to improve the voluntary sector’s role in providing public services.

The “Big Society” also featured in the Conservative Manifesto of 2015; this referred to:

  • a new workplace entitlement to Volunteering Leave for three days a year
  • a guaranteed place on the National Citizen Service for young people

A January 2015 “Big Society Audit” by Civil Exchange argued that while there had been some “genuinely positive initiatives”, the Big Society had not reached those who needed it most – those with least power and influence. The then Government said the report did not fairly reflect the “significant progress” that had been made.

This note provides further background to the Big Society; the role of the voluntary and community sector; some of the Government’s initiatives; and a selection of comment.

Commons Briefing papers SN05883

Author: John Woodhouse

Topic: Voluntary organisations

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