Abstract: The Conservative prime minister David Cameron has consistently sought to distinguish his party from its Thatcherite predecessors by his espousal of the 'big society'. The term has generated considerable debate, but all agree that it must necessarily imply a greater role for voluntarism and voluntary organisations. The Coalition government wishes to increase levels of charitable giving and volunteering, to facilitate the expansion of non-profit organisations in the welfare state, and to encourage the transfer of public assets and services to the voluntary sector. This raises questions about the capacities of communities to respond to the challenges posed by the big society. What do these capacities look like, and are they robust enough to cope with the fallout from the largest public expenditure reductions proposed by any Western European government in peacetime? Drawing on substantial research programmes at the Third Sector Research Centre and the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy, this paper looks at three areas in which the big society starts from uneven foundations: the distribution of voluntary organisations; the numbers, characteristics and distribution of volunteers, as well as trends in volunteering rates over time; and the exposure of voluntary organisations to public funding streams. It predicts that there will be considerable challenges ahead if voluntary organisations are to cope with current social challenges; indeed, there is a strong likelihood that these policies will widen rather than reduce divisions between communities. This will raise questions about what can realistically be expected of charitable giving and voluntary action.
To cite this article: Mohan, John. The Conservative Party, the 'big society' and the third sector in the United Kingdom: Stable foundations, uneven contours? [online]. Third Sector Review, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2013: 5-26.
[cited 23 Jun 17].