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Community ideas

Can civil society save our communities?

I’ve always thought that civil society is a good thing. Those associations, trade unions and non-governmental organisations raise money for charity, fight for workers rights and plug the gaps in the social care system. In recent years, we have seen charities become more like businesses and more community interest companies trying to tackle community problems but also trying to make a profit. I suspect some of these new organisations are more driven by a desire to create jobs or maintain jobs for the people who run them than provide a worthwhile service.

 civil society

Mental Health

Mental health services run by these new charities and CIC’s seem to offer gimmicks; exercise for mental health, cognitive behaviour therapy, art therapy or they organise tea and sympathy meetings. Often people with mental health problems are at the end of what they can tolerate and end up sitting on a bridge over the motorway threatening to jump and causing people unnecessary stress as they sit in traffic waiting for the emergency services to deal with the incident. When people are at the end of their tether who do they call? Where is the emergency department for people with mental health problems? They need people to listen to them in confidence, not in group meetings.

Fun days

Fun days are by definition fun but many events are organised so the organisers can have fun. They then lose sight of the charitable purpose of their organisation. Let’s organise a tea party with cakes! Let’s organise a coffee morning! Let’s organise a fun day! It will be fun! The satisfaction and pride that comes from simply helping others or making the community a better place disappears.

Of course, the government encourages these new organisations and civil society was even renamed the Big Society to herald in community interest companies where profit was no longer a dirty word. No one seems to be asking who the main beneficiaries are of these new charities, companies and other organisations. There doesn’t seem to be much regulation either. The charity commission asks for annual accounts but those accounts aren’t checked and if they aren’t submitted they do little more than making a note of it.

Civil society

Higher up in civil society we have charities spending millions on publicity and advertising to raise money which in turn is spent on more publicity and advertising. Then there is an annual awards dinner where they pat each other on the back and dine for free. How often do cancer research charities hit the headlines with a breakthrough? How often do charities working in the third world show us people doing well because of their support?

You might say I’m a cynic but we seem to be constantly blinded by slick advertising and slightly fraudulent messages. Speed cameras become safety cameras and they try to sell us the belief that it’s all for our own good rather than raising money in fines. Charities use the same slick advertising to sell us a message but does that message reflect the truth?

I would like to believe that the rise in the number of community interest companies is because we are becoming more civic-minded and civil society is having a resurgence but I don’t. I see people becoming greedy and I suspect these companies are driven more by self-interest than community interest. I see schemes to end deprivation but deprivation getting worse. There are schemes to improve healthcare but healthcare is deteriorating. The evidence doesn’t show these new ideas work.

That’s all for today. I hope today’s post has made you think for a moment. While we have to support civil society, we also have to question it. Civil society is often promoted as being the saviour of our communities but the evidence shows it has little impact.

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