When David Cameron first mooted the idea of a Big Society, many were left perplexed about what it was and more importantly how it could be achieved. Today a charity from the southwest, The Somerset Community Foundation, may have shown us how this broad concept can be practically applied.
They have launched the “Surviving Winter Appeal” that aims to tackle the issue of fuel poverty among the elderly in Somerset. It is estimated that in the UK 33,000 pensioners are unable to afford to heat their homes over the winter months despite receiving winter fuel allowance. The coalition has pledged to continue to pay universal benefits to the elderly, with all those over 60’s receiving between £250 and £400. This does not make sense – there are many pensioners in this country who could fund their own winter fuel without this subsidy.
This Big Society-style scheme aims to solve this problem of unnecessary provision, by encouraging those who do not need the government’s money to donate it. Then it can be reallocated to those who do need the extra funds. Lords Ashdown and Cotter have already pledged to the appeal, as well as the prominent businessmen Michael Eavis and the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
Examples of Cameron’s Big Society are something that has so far has been hard to find. The concept is loose and its application unclear, but this scheme may start to indicate the route that charities and voluntary organisations need to explore if they are going to fit the Prime Minster’s vision of how this country should operate.
It seems that what David Cameron meant by the Big Society was that charities and voluntary organisations would take responsibility for ensuring the correct allocation of scarce resources, which in this case is government money. This scheme is hugely worthwhile and tackles the very real problem of fuel poverty. But ultimately it raises the question of why winter fuel payments are universal to begin with. The actions of a few good people cannot excuse the irresponsible spending of a profligate state.