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55 per cent of people have not heard of the Conservatives Big Society policy, according to an RSA commissioned survey.

A recent Ipsos MORI poll of 512 adults shows that 64 percent of people believe that in recent years public services have tried to do too much and people should take more responsibility for their own lives.

But equally, 54 percent of people think that the big society is a good idea in principle but won't work in practice, and as many as 57 percent also think it's just an excuse for the government to save money by cutting back on public services.  

The survey and analysis commissioned in advance of the RSA's Conservative Party Conference Event, 'Hidden Wealth, Finding the Big Society in a Deprived Community', found that the public is still confused as to what the policy means in practice. They also have no clear view on the role of the state - they believe 'people' should get more involved - though almost as many think it is up to the government the Government is responsible for public services too.

Our survey found that the concept of the Big Society was polarising politically. On balance, the policy made Tory party voters view their party more positively (34 percent more positive compared with 4 percent more negative); in contrast Labour party supporters viewed the Conservatives more negatively as a result (37 percent more negative compared with 5 percent more positve); and Lib Democrats voters are split over it (28 percent more positive,  22 percent more negative).

The poll comes as the RSA examines differences in attitudes towards the Big Society at each of the party conferences. The RSA will be asking as the state shrinks, what positive catalyst will there be for more involvement in local communities? And what does it mean for each of the three political parties?

Commenting on the survey findings, Chief Executive of the RSA Matthew Taylor said:

"Our poll shows that people broadly accept the idea we need to give back more to our local community. It also points to there being a gap between, on the one hand, people's support of the idea and their willingness to step forward themselves and, on the other, their support for devolving power and their intolerance of 'postcode lotteries'. The third finding is that unless politicians are talking about the Big Society constantly it soon slips from public imagination. Recognition of the idea seems to have fallen in the last few months."

Commenting on the poll, Chief Executive of Ipsos Mori, Ben Page said:

"The evidence to date suggests that the public are positive in principle, but sceptical about the reality.  Although the architects of the Big Society know this, levels of volunteering have been flat in Britain for years, so they face some major challenges in making it happen."

Commenting on the survey, Chief Executive of The Social Investment Business, Jonathan Lewis added:

"We need to be able to move past the debate about vocabulary, and focus on how to best get things done. It's great that the government seems to have a genuine interest in the sector. The debate needs to progress beyond the words used to describe the work of community groups and onto how to expand their role in helping the most vulnerable and needy in society. A vital part of this is making sure social enterprises, charities and voluntary organisations get the support they need to become strong and sustainable for the long term."

Download the full press release (PDF, 43KB)


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