News from our friends at the National Coalition for Independent Action as they release two more reports from their Inquiry into the Future of Voluntary Service.
Charities told to keep quiet or lose government contracts
The first – Voluntary Services and Campaigning in Austerity UK: Saying less and Doing More by Dr Mike Aiken reveals that charities and other voluntary groups are often absent from campaigns to tackle the root causes of poverty. It shows that voluntary groups, especially those under contract to government, face threats to remain silent about their experiences and many are fearful to speak out in case they lose their funding or face other sanctions.
The findings show a climate of fear and threats to free speech. They follow on the tails of a Charity Commission investigation into Oxfam after the charity warned of the “relentless rise of food poverty” in the UK [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30546517 19.12.14]. The Commission’s investigation was instigated after a complaint against Oxfam by Tory MP, Conor Burns. It adds to fears raised by the ex-Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, who said this week that charities and campaign groups have been “frightened” into curtailing their public work by the new Lobbying Act [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30935367 22.01.15].
Mike concludes that “the injunction to silence knowledgeable voluntary groups from talking about their experiences would be quite at home in any totalitarian regime seeking to crush independent and divergent voices”.
“In our campaign voluntary organisations were very nervous about saying anything which might compromise their funding….The worrying thing is public sector disintegration….services are now done by the voluntary sector….these people are all on zero hours contracts…so the welfare state becomes privatised, but the voluntary sector is also privatised.” (Anti-privatisation campaign)
“We made a number of attempts to work with the local mainstream/council-funded voluntary sector organisation and it just wasn’t happening….politics has replaced sex as the thing that can’t be named.” (local activist network)
Read also Andy Benson’s blog, Campaigning in the Spotlight
We’ll do a separate post on the second report Struggling to Survive… Independently: Stories from the Frontline of Voluntary Services by our own Bernard Davies in the next day or two.