The Big Society and the 'Mutualisation' of Public Services: A Critical Commentary



Birchall J (2011) The Big Society and the 'Mutualisation' of Public Services: A Critical Commentary. Political Quarterly, 82 (Supplement s1), pp. 145-157.

First paragraph: The attempt to devolve public services to ‘employee mutuals' is one element in the political agenda known as the ‘Big Society'. This specific policy initiative by the coalition government is surrounded by a broader interest in the idea of ‘mutuality' or ‘mutualism' as a new political principle encapsulating the idea of a revised relationship between the state and civil society. The promoters of the idea refer back to a time before the welfare state when ‘mutuals' such as friendly societies provided a radically different approach to meeting the needs of citizens based on self-help and mutual aid. For instance, in his Hugo Young memorial lecture in 2009, David Cameron described how an ‘ethos of mutuality' was present when the welfare state was created, a ‘vibrant panoply' of civic organisations such as cooperatives, friendly societies, building societies and guilds. He drew from this the lesson that the state had subsequently squeezed out self-help and mutual responsibility, and that it has to become an instrument for giving power back to society.

Political Quarterly: Volume 82, Issue Supplement s1

Publication date30/09/2011