The Big Society just got a little bit smaller

Find out why our attempts to create ‘the Big Society’ just got a little bit smaller


This week we’ve had confirmation from East Sussex County Council that the Cabinet have voted to cut our funding under the Commissioning Grants Prospectus. This news was expected and I’ve written about the consultation process here but we’re still sad about it. When we set out starting Gig Buddies we weren’t inspired by David Cameron’s vision of a Big Society – we thought creating a project that supported people out of social isolation through going to gigs was just a good idea.

The council will have £40million less to spend on adult social care services by March 2019. That’s in addition to the £28million they’ve already had to save since 2013. While the Council’s Cabinet considered the results of the public consultation I can’t really see what else they could have done.

The Big Society just got a little bit smaller

photo courtesy of Steve Hodgson

Social Care is facing unprecedented cuts across the UK due to the Government’s policy of austerity and nationally the picture is staggering. In his inaugural speech as President of ADASS, Ray James said there will be a £4.3bn funding gap in social care by 2020, this is on top of the £8bn NHS funding shortfall and that there has been a 26% real-terms reduction in budget that councils have seen since 2010.

It’s obvious that preventative social care projects work hand-in-glove with the NHS and actually cost the country a lot less in the long-run. Maybe more importantly they cost individuals a lot less in terms of promoting well-being.

As a small charity we don’t have much clout, I’ll share this blog post with local MPs so they can read about the impact of the Government’s policies but I do think there’s more that larger providers could be doing. A couple of year’s ago I was chatting with the CEO of a medium sized provider who was defending the ‘economies of scale’ or merging 3 group homes in to an 11 ‘bed’ ‘service’ [their terms not mine!]. The rationale being that everyone living there would get a better level of support and an en-suite bathroom, despite acknowledging that it would be impossible for everyone to get out of the house every day! Now I may be a little naïve I know but I asked why they couldn’t just tell the local authority to get stuffed and that they wouldn’t play ball with this idea.

The response from the CEO was that they were the best placed to support these people.

What would happen though if all the providers said “enough is enough – we can’t continue to serve people with learning disabilities with our current business models. We need to find a radical way of re-shaping ‘the market’”. What would happen then?

The Big Society just got a little bit smaller

I have no idea – but I would really love to see a lot more courageous leadership coming from support providers in this area. Last year I was at a local authority provider forum where more cuts were being announced and the discussion across the floor was largely around “how can we sustain our businesses in this climate?” Asking those sorts of questions first really does do a disservice to the people we’re meant to be supporting. “How can we make sure that people with learning disabilities have a great life in this climate?” Now that would be a good question I think.

We’re going to be eternally grateful to the support and trust that East Sussex County Council showed us in getting Gig Buddies off the ground. They’re funding was the catalyst that meant we were able to grow our team to support more and more people to get involved. And they’re funding was just £14,000 per year. I reckon that’s astonishingly good value for money!

We really try to keep our costs to a minimum but you can’t run a volunteer scheme on nothing. We have got an amazingly skilled, and dedicated, team who do a wonderful job of supporting all the participants and volunteers. The Big Society can not run on thin air.

I do know the long-term impact of these cuts will not be good for the health and well-being of individuals in our society, and also for the health of society as a whole. Here’s Fraser Caygill, one of our participants talking about the impact funding cuts will have on him:

We want to make our position clear, we’re not abandoning East Sussex but due to our Big Lottery funding we’ll be spreading our work across West Sussex and Brighton and Hove. We’ll still be supporting socially isolated people with learning disabilities and autism in East Sussex to be matched up with a volunteer buddy, as well as running socials and group meet-ups. It’s just not going to be easy, but we’re up for the challenge!The Big Society just got a little bit smaller

Maybe the Big Society has run out of steam as a political idea as more and more small grassroots charity apply to the same ever decreasing funding sources but we’ve definitely not run out of steam for delivering the Gig Society – thank you East Sussex for the support this far. We couldn’t have done it without you.


The Big Society just got a little bit smaller







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