Yesterday I was working with the Co-ordinator of one of MRCF’s member organisations on a funding application. At the end of the meeting she said that their new Conservative MP had agreed to visit them. I thought that was great and said ‘make sure you tell her all about how you contribute to their big society’. She laughed and said, ‘it’s strange, we’ve been doing all this big society stuff where I come from for as long as anyone can remember, if we hadn’t we wouldn’t have survived this long. We just didn’t know till now that it was called big society!’
Everyday in my work I see and hear about what I consider to be big society in action – our volunteers, many of them refugees and migrants, who mentor and support other refugees and migrants who are struggling with their new lives in London, migrant domestic workers who pool their meagre wages to support their colleagues who have run away from abusive employers and have therefore lost their income, individuals who having learnt about what asylum seekers have gone through organise talks in their communities to pass the message on to others. For me this is big society because it’s driven by a belief in social justice and our individual and collective responsibility to deliver it.
Our new Government says that it wants to create the conditions for citizens to devote time and energy to solving long term social problems. Given that so many of the problems that the communities we work with at MRCF spend their time and energy solving are created by government policies, I fear that their actions won’t count. In the same way that compulsory volunteering to speed up citizenship applications will devalue the huge amount of volunteering that so many migrants and refugees already do, I fear that Government plans for ‘big society’ will be yet one more way that migrants and refugees are excluded.