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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Justice – A Citizen's Guide: Fairness And The Big Society

Justice – A Citizen's Guide

What is the "Big Society"? What is fairness? And how do the two ideas relate to each other? Renowned Harvard professor of government Michael Sandel casts an outsider's eye on contemporary Britain and explores the big philosophical themes behind these present-day dilemmas in a special televised debate to launch BBC Four's Year of Justice.

For the last year, Prime Minister David Cameron has been promoting the concept of the "Big Society" and there are signs that it is beginning to generate cross-party traction, with positive remarks from Labour MP Jon Cruddas and Peter Mandelson, as well as Nick Clegg and other Liberal Democrat members of the coalition. Not everyone is convinced, however – some sceptics claim that the "Big Society" is just a smokescreen for cuts to local government and the public sector.

Meanwhile, another concept dominating the political debate in the current climate is fairness. With proposals on the table for some of the biggest government cuts in post-war history, the question of how these should be implemented most fairly has taken centre stage.

Among the questions Michael Sandel will ask are – Is it fair that students should pay higher fees? Is it fair to cap housing benefit? And if fairness is about giving people what they deserve, then have bankers been fairly treated in light of their role in the current financial crisis?

The debate will explore these timely questions by excavating the philosophical roots of these issues and the bigger questions behind them. If a central tenet of fairness is equality, what is more important – equality of outcome or equality of opportunity? Is income inequality acceptable if everyone has the chance to be amongst the winners? And how does all this sit within the aspiration to create a "Big Society"?

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