Forget the 'big society'. Austerity is to blame for this army of volunteers | Michael Segalov

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Almost four in 10 Britons offer their time free of charge, but many of them are stepping in where the state has failed

At first it sounded quite lovely, didn’t it? The notion of a “big society” – back in those heady days when David Cameron and Nick Clegg stood side by side in the Downing Street garden. In May 2010, we were still ignorant of the devastating austerity these two men would go on to inflict. And so they offered us the “big society” – from the Cabinet Office a document was proudly produced. “Our Conservative-Liberal Democrat government has come together with a driving ambition: to put more power and opportunity into people’s hands,” reads the opening. “We want to give citizens, communities and local government the power and information they need to come together, solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want.”

Related: Deprived northern regions worst hit by UK austerity, study finds

That so many of us volunteer our time is testament to our individual good nature, but in many cases it’s a sad indictment of our society

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