Big society reward points would undermine a small government agenda

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It’s disappointing that the coalition’s vision of the Big Society has largely failed to capture the public’s imagination. Whether this failure is down to genuine ideological resistance on the part of the public or to poor explanation by the implementers is a moot point. What’s for certain is that one recent development threatens to confuse matters even further.

Windsor and Maidenhead council is planning to issue “big society reward points” which would allow good citizens to cash in on their virtuous deeds: plant some trees or volunteer at a retirement home and you’ll be rewarded with discounts at high street shops, supermarkets and restaurants. Free marketeers are all in favour of people reaping rewards from their actions, but considerable problems arise when government interferes in stipulating what those actions should be. David Burbage, the council’s leader, said that the planned scheme might be extended to reward improved behaviour in areas such as healthy living and school attendance. Such a move would lead to further confusion amongst those who don’t understand what is meant by the Big Society, and disappoint those seeking an end to big government.

What’s appealing about the Big Society is its reminder to individuals that they should help themselves and those around them before looking to government: if councils were to start manipulating this idea for the purpose of social engineering, it would quickly lose its appeal.