In 2010, the Conservative Party election manifesto featured a prominent role for the ‘Big Society’. For the Prime Minister David Cameron, the Big Society is about social recovery and passing responsibility from central government to the people. The Big Society is about empowering people and communities. In this video, David Cameron talks about his vision of the Big Society. He talks about restructuring public services, enabling people to return to work and more importantly taking responsibility. He refers to a broken society of broken communities and public services that don’t work the way people want them to. I think this is rhetorical. For instance, I’m very happy with the public services I receive but appreciate that many problems we face in society today can be neatly caricaturised with such arguments. While the Big Society has been cynically criticised as a cover for economic cuts and being vague on details Mr Cameron’s elaboration on the details of the Big Society shows that this is a profound concept which respects the people as being autonomous, capable and manifesting a community spirit. Bearing this in mind, the lack of details is perhaps a deliberate approach empowering people, communities, charities and private enterprise to fill in the details which after all is what it’s all about.
So the next question is where do mental health services fit into all of this? To me, this looks like a remarkable opportunity for mental health services (public, private and voluntary sector), for those with mental illness and for the mental well-being services to contribute to the rebuilding of society in a way which challenges stigma, enhances access to services and which enables a broad range of scientific disciplines to contribute to building society in a way which has not been possible before. Although competition between organisations can be healthy and is encouraged by certain elements of the Big Society concepts, I believe that the most effective way for this to happen will involve the most a carefully thought through approach which includes a philosophy, an information infrastructure and more importantly a translation of both into a technological infrastructure of the type which is now available. As the Big Society meets the promise of Cameron’s vision then in the coming years we should see intense academic dialogue in the social sciences accompanied by a paradigmatic shift in how society evolves.
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