Big Society guru urges newly retired people to volunteer

Lord Wei Lord Wei urged the government not to lose sight of the Big Society amid the ongoing economic turmoil

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David Cameron's former adviser on the Big Society is proposing that all newly retired people take part in a type of national service.

Lord Wei of Shoreditch, who resigned from his government job in May 2011, is launching the idea as a way of helping people to cope with a big change in their life, as well as society and the economy.

Retirees who take part in the service might be expected to volunteer, or work part-time in so-called social enterprises.

Conservative peer Lord Wei, who at 35 is the youngest member of the House of Lords, says he wants members of the baby-boomer generation involved.

"What's interesting with the baby-boomer generation is they've had a lot of structure and help throughout their lives. They've often worked for large companies."

Giving something back

He said the scheme would provide a similar structure after they leave work.

"After the six months of retirement, when you've done all the DIY and the things that perhaps initially you wanted to do, you've got another 29 years. What are you going to do with that time?"

New retirees would take part in a programme of seminars before they begin national retirement service. Lord Wei hopes they will take place on cruise ships and at National Trust properties.

The scheme will be funded by charities and private sector employers but the former adviser on the Big Society wants involvement from the government.

For example, people's pension statements might, in time, include advice about how to take part in national retirement service.

"I don't think we need this heavily led by the state, but people are reassured by the fact that it's a national retirement service; it's something we can all do," said Lord Wei.

Former public sector manager, Gerry Glenister, 65, from Kidderminster, Worcestershire, retired at the start of 2012. She took part in some of the early consultation about the project and is enthusiastic.

"I've worked and earned my money, and I've got to a point where I want to give something back.

"When you get to the end of your working life, if you're able, you should start to push something back," she said.

'Aspirational waffle'

Mick Newton, a retired primary school deputy head from London, said the name was difficult for people to take in.

"The name has to change, because the press would give that hell. It would be Dad's Army, or forced labour."

Mr Newton said he thought the general idea was good: "It would have to be quite formal, almost like a national job agency of employment and volunteering."

The plan marks Lord Wei's re-emergence into public life after more than a year in which he has given no interviews.

Despite his resignation as an adviser, the government has continued to promote the Big Society project - which was the centrepiece of the Conservative party manifesto at the 2010 general election.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has criticised the Big Society as "aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable".

Lord Wei admits the struggling economy and the eurozone crisis mean the government has a lot on its plate, but should not lose sight of his vision.

"This is a long-term process. In truth, more can often be done from outside than inside, and that's the main reason I'm now focusing on what I've always been doing.

"If enough of us from the outside work hard to develop initiatives on the kind of scale that can bring this about then - as we've seen in the past - government follows fast," he said.

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