Goodbye to the Big Society: Money comes first, a better world second

The Tories do love someone who stacks shelves. They represent enterprise

Share

A moment’s silence, if you please, to mark the passing of the Big Society.

It had been in poor health for some time, but has finally been put out of its misery by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, during a TV interview on Sunday. A graduate was better employed stacking shelves, unpaid, in a supermarket, Duncan Smith argued, than doing voluntary work for a local museum. Perhaps we should be grateful. The idea behind the Big Society, based on community and generosity, had always seemed an uneasy fit with Conservative values.

Duncan Smith was infuriated that an Appeal Court had upheld the case of Cait Reilly, a geology graduate who, in order to get her back-to-work payments, was forced to give up her voluntary work at a museum and stack shelves instead.

The truth is, Reilly had been behaving in precisely the way which Cameron used to recommend. The idea behind the Big Society was that it would wean people off dependency on the State, encourage neighbourliness and bring communities together. Volunteering for things – running a local museum, for example – would show that, beyond the nanny state and the harsh jobs market, there was another world of work where satisfaction mattered more than pay.

For many conservatives, these must have been dangerously liberal thoughts. If people like Cait Reilly began to discover that there was more to life than being an economic unit, then the whole market-based system of values would start to crumble.

Conservatives do love a shelf-stacker. It is a job which represents enterprise in a strangely pure and beautiful way. Successful industrialists like to recall that they started their brilliant careers stacking shelves; perhaps, during his gap year, Duncan Smith did some stacking himself.

“Smart people”, he said this weekend, should ask themselves when they were next unable to find something in a supermarket, whose job is more important – a geologist or a shelf-stacker.

It is a moronic line of argument, but a very Conservative one. An out-of-work person is better employed doing unpaid grunt-work so that a multinational business makes bigger profits, the thinking goes, than working in her community.

If the Big Society had meant anything, then the back-to-work scheme would have put real emphasis on the voluntary sector. It is there that job-seekers are most likely to learn useful values – a sense of engagement and responsibility.

As “smart people”, they might also conclude that being told to stack shelves for the benefit of Poundland in return for a government benefit is little more than an exercise in cynicism and exploitation.

Twitter: @TerenceBlacker

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Financial Analyst

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Financial Analyst is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Secretary

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This major European Intellectual Propert...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: Calling black people 'coloured' removes part of their humanity

Yemisi Adegoke
 

Dippy the Diplodocus: The great exotic beast was the stuff of a childhood fantasy story

Charlie Cooper
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness