Is the Coalition just lucky to have the Olympics and Queen’s Jubilee arriving at a perfect time to take the country’s focus away from the failure of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ pledge?

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2012 is looking like it is set to be a fruitful year- hosting the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Britain’s year ahead certainly promises to be eventful. David Cameron has said that the ‘London Olympics will leave a great legacy’, [1] alongside the organisers of London 2012 itself, who assert that the ‘public-spirited legacy left behind will rival that of the 1951 Festival of Britain’. In addition to London 2012 of course, are the upcoming celebrations to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. But is the fervour behind these events really all that reassuring for Britain? This article will suggest that perhaps the Coalition government should just be thankful for this advantageous opportunity; to divert attention away from the increasingly poor well-being of the nation, and its failure to live up to the ‘Big Society’ promise.

First and foremost, the notion of the ‘Big Society’ must be understood. Outlining the ‘Big Society’ as his personal ‘mission’, Cameron has said; ‘we need a social recovery to mend the broken society and to me, that’s what the Big Society is all about.’ Along these lines, he describes the government’s ‘duty’ as ‘sorting out the budget deficit, building economic recovery alongside ensuring social recovery.’ [2] Cameron’s pledge to build social recovery as part of his ‘Big Society’ mission is further supported by his endorsement of an alternative means to GDP for measuring a nation’s well-being. He has outlined that; ‘it is time to recognise that GDP is an incomplete way of measuring the country’s progress’- offering instead proposals for well-being indicators enabling us to ‘start measuring our progress as a country not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life.’ [3] Thus, Cameron has given assurance to the nation that he and his government take the goal of improving the UK’s quality of life to be of utmost importance.

Speaking at the Google Zeitgeist Europe Conference, Cameron again urged politics to recognise well-being and quality of life as a highly important contemporary issue. He highlighted; ‘improving our society’s sense of well-being is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.’ Moreover, he acknowledged that societal quality of life cannot be measured accurately by economic performance alone, adding that; ‘wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets, it’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and above all, the strength of our relationships.’

But has Cameron’s apparent concern for our nation’s well-being paid off in reality? What is the present state for our nation in terms of well-being and the ‘big society’? Unfortunately for the coalition; recent statistics and reports present a pessimistic picture for the nation’s overall quality of life and the status of its ‘social recovery’.

Many of us will be able to relate to the feeling of helplessness and anxiety caused by stress at work or financial woes, but recent statistics indicate that insomnia, depression and anxiety are affecting our society on a grand scale. By the end of 2011, NHS figures published highlighted a 20% increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants and sleeping pills; a symptom described to be result from the stress of recent years. [4] Surely, such a sharp rise in prescriptions for anti-depressants and sleeping pills indicate that the well-being of the nation is far from the ideal to which Cameron had initially aspired.

In addition to this, there is evidence to suggest that the ‘broken society’ is far from mended. Recent social unrest and protests within the nation, alongside a formidable rise in violent crime demonstrates the failure Coalition’s failure to bring about the ‘social recovery’ Cameron’s ‘big society’ so desperately demands. The prime example of social unrest naturally being the 2011 London Riots, involving several days worth of violent looting and rampage in certain areas of London. Following Cameron’s portrayal of these riots as ‘disgraceful criminal behaviour’ [5], optimism regarding social recovery can understandably become bleak. Accompanying the London Riots are figures to suggest an increase in violent crime and knife crime in the nation; ‘as councils cut youth services… figures reveal that serious youth violence increases by 4% year on year across (London), with a 9.6% hike in knife crime.’ [6] What the above evidence presents is a disheartening picture of the state of the nation. With cuts to youth services correlating with a rise in violent crime and social unrest, it is difficult to defend Cameron’s current success in fixing ‘broken Britain’ and building upon the ‘big society’- this of course presents a real challenge to the coalition in terms of maintaining an image of competence and progress.

Indeed, one might say that what the coalition desperately needs here; is a rather sensational diversion. What better timing then, for the London 2012 Olympics and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to come along and save the day? Forget save the Queen; to say that the royal celebrations this summer can be credited for saving the coalition is far more plausible. Headlines of youth crime, a spike in the number of depression cases and rising inequality seem to be silver lined with flamboyant stories of the Olympic Torch route, the Queen’s jubilee speech to Parliament and a stained glass window gift to her Majesty- to celebrate her 60 year reign. The public’s attention, it would seem, has been successfully drawn away from the nation’s increasingly abundant social problems and economic woes, towards promises of relaxed Sunday trading laws during the Olympics. Heavy taxation of the events has been justified by claims of a boosted economy as nations across the globe come together to celebrate the opportunity to indulge in a dear old friend; retail therapy. Perhaps GDP for Cameron then, is an adequate way to measure the country’s progress after all.

Article by Ellie Neves. Edited by Mariam Boakye-Dankwa.

Further Reading

[1] Telegraph Online, March 13 2012.., http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/olympics/9002577/David-Cameron-London-2012-Olympics-will-leave-a-great-legacy.html (accessed 13/03.12)
[2] BBC News Online., February 14 2011., http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12443396 (accessed 13/10/12)
[3] The Guardian Online., November 25 2010., http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/25/david-cameron-defends-wellbeing-index (accessed 13/03/12)
[4] The Scotsman Newspage., http://www.scotsman.com/news/health/rise_in_sleeping_pill_prescriptions_1_2030383 (accessed 13/03/12)
[5] BBC News Online., 9 August 2011., http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-14444067 (accesses 14/03/12)