Letters: Has the Big Society helped? Of course not

These letters appear in the July 29 edition of The Independent

I think many of us involved in the charity sector have been sceptical of Cameron’s Big Society initiative almost from the very beginning.

I am the secretary of a small Birmingham-based grant-giving trust: we give around £55,000 a year to small organisations in Birmingham and the West Midlands. Since the Coalition came to power the number of applications has risen so dramatically that we have had to tighten our guidelines to cope.

The nature of applications for help has changed. Four years ago we didn’t see applications from organisations concerned with the relief of poverty and hunger: we do now. Judith Flack’s description of what is happening in Derby (letter, 28 July) applies equally to Birmingham, and I am sure to many other towns and cities in the UK.

Has the Big Society initiative helped? Of course it hasn’t. It was just a political catchphrase. If the money that has been squandered had been given to my trust and those like it, we could have used it sensibly to provide help to the many small organisations that are doing so much good in our towns and cities (and were doing so long before the Big Society was invented).

The conclusion I draw from this fiasco is that you can’t direct people to do good in the way Cameron envisaged. People do it because they care and passionately want to help. They are the people the Government should be encouraging and helping financially. Instead, as you report (28 July), the voluntary sector has been damaged by the ill-advised Big Society push.

Bob King
Rushton, Northamptonshire


Whilst I applaud Judith Flack’s public spiritedness (letter, 28 July), it leaves me with a dilemma.

When David Cameron announced his Big Society initiative, I promised not to volunteer to do jobs which would normally be undertaken by paid workers, or which would undermine the values of public service. However, if I continue to take this stance, those most in need of help will suffer.

The rewards for cutting public expenditure have been disproportionately passed on to the most wealthy, in the form of tax cuts for the largest companies and richest individuals. In spite of this the least well-off are still giving a higher proportion of their time and disposable income to charities and not-for-profit organisations. I think it is time for a change.

Pete Rowberry
Saxmundham, Suffolk


Israel is the wrong target

Perhaps those who have attended anti-Israel rallies during the Gaza conflict might ask themselves the following questions.

Why did they not take to the streets during the past nine years since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza to protest at Hamas building stockpiles of offensive weaponry? Why have they not publicly questioned why the billions of dollars of foreign aid delivered to Gaza has not resulted in a new, modern civilian infrastructure? Why did they not publicly protest about provocative rocket fire from Gaza into Israel before Israel responded? Indeed, why have they not protested about the thousands of people killed in Syria and elsewhere?

People have confused the cause of the problem with the symptoms. Israel’s actions today are symptomatic of the situation caused by others.

The real cause of the conflict in Gaza is the unforgivable lack of action by the Palestinian leadership to build a better life for the people they govern. Those who take part in these anti-Israel rallies, and the media who jump on that bandwagon, make themselves pawns in this game, and thus become part of the root cause.

Michael Lewis
Edgware, Middlesex

Would Henry Tobias (letter, 24 July) specify which of Hamas’s demands are akin to Israel committing suicide?

Amid the current catastrophe, Hamas put forth 10 conditions for 10 years’ ceasefire. All the demands centred on lifting Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza and allowing Palestinians their sovereign rights, including access to the Rafah crossing under international supervision.

Why does the Knesset find it hard to agree on terms that would allow Gaza to survive and exist? It is sadly ironic that Israel’s discourse constantly raises the fear of its own destruction by Hamas, yet Israel commences its own destruction of Palestinian territories through unjust blockades, indiscriminate bombardments, and settlement expansions.

Rahman N Chowdhury
London E1


Israel bizarrely claims that the objective of its bombing of civilian homes in Gaza is to restore “peace and quiet”. This must mean peacefully building more settlements on illegally occupied land while quietly strangling Gaza through the eight-year siege.

Felix Cornish
London SW17


Hamas lobs rockets into Israel, untargeted, and, though disturbing, doing minimal damage. The Israelis respond with disproportionate force, killing hundreds of civilians, and the West condemns them.

Then after an interval, Hamas resumes its provocation, the Israelis respond disproportionately again, and the West condemns them again.

Someone should tell the parties that to repeat the same action time after time and expect a different result is one definition of madness. Isis must be licking its lips at the thought of how many disaffected young men there are in Gaza just ripe for indoctrination.

Stuart Russell
Cirencester, Gloucestershire


‘Racism’ works both ways

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown once again feels the need to write about her belief that she lives in a racist country where black and Asian people are held back by whites who employ them (28 July). She should view BBC London television news; she would witness that the majority of presenters are black and Asian.

Employers may tend to employ people they can relate to. This doesn’t just apply to white British employing their own kind, but to Asian employers who rarely employ whites, and more recently Polish builders who will only employ Poles.

We, including Ms Alibhai-Brown, should accept this for what it is, rather than stir up inter-race relations. If it is “racist”, it works both ways.

Jeremy Bacon
Woodford Green, Essex


I was highly amused by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s claim that white, male Booker Prize juries exclude racial minorities from its longlist (28 July). Makes you wonder how such former winners of the prize as V S Naipaul, Salman Rushdie and Ben Okri ever got anywhere at all.

D J Taylor


Crazy way to combat domestic violence

Community resolution is not the right way to tackle domestic violence (“Violent partners being let off with ‘slap on the wrist’ orders”, 28 July). Victims have often suffered horrific emotional and physical abuse and are left in an extremely vulnerable position. To expect them to face the perpetrators and settle an abuse case out of court is nonsensical. This approach will further inhibit women coming forward and reduce confidence in the police.

Rather than focusing so heavily on perpetrators, police need to put victims first and let them know that their situations will be taken seriously. One woman a fortnight is killed by her partner in London.

However, there are pockets of good practice where police are doing pioneering work in collaboration with Housing for Women to tackle domestic violence. For example, in Greenwich, we provide a support worker in the police station to offer advice to both officers and victims in a dedicated domestic violence suite. These services can often mean the difference between life and death, but they are not available nationally.

Collaborative services between police and agencies need to be rolled out across the UK, to provide the support needed by victims of domestic violence, and to make sure that lives are saved.

Jakki Moxham
Chief Executive
Housing for Women
London SW9


Fabled land of prosperity

Ben Chu is absolutely right to be sceptical (“The economy’s back where it started. Had you noticed?” 26 July). Most people will have noticed nothing because these “economic facts” happen not in the real Britain at all but in its political clone, the fabled land of Statistica. The trouble is, only rich people are allowed to go there.

Steve Edwards
Wivelsfield Green, East Sussex


Judgement of the stars

The Tory MP David Tredinnick has suggested that astrology should be offered to NHS patients. Perhaps he should ponder on what the late Patrick Moore had to say: “Astrology proves one scientific fact, and one only: there’s one born every minute.”

Michael Yates