Thinking Out Loud : Will the Voluntary Sector be allowed?

Ta to the Guardian

In the last couple of weeks the Government’s fear of open and pluralist debate/action has revealed itself once more in the insertion of an anti-advocacy clause into charities’ grant agreements.

See here two critical responses:


We have already reiterated to government that this clause is unjust on points of principle: that charities must always be able to speak up for their beneficiaries, campaign within the law, irrespective of their funding arrangements. We have asked government to provide evidence of the problem it is seeking to solve – with little forthcoming so far.

Meeting needs or solving root causes? from Charlee Bewsher at the Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire and Humber.

So what is the role of charities? Is it to improve people’s lives and good causes, as suggested by the Government? Or to question the causes of the conditions which give rise to those needs? How will this impact on organisations or projects that try and give a voice to their communities? Will this be considered political lobbying? What is political lobbying? Will independent grant givers fill this funding gap, if some charities feel they can’t compromise or see a difference between responding to need and trying to prevent that need in the first place?

Do faith groups, with access to independent funding, have an ever increasing role in speaking out on behalf of communities, as the Government doesn’t seem to mind them doing so? But how does this fit with a secular society that is ever fearful of religion? I am aware that it was faith groups that ultimately enabled the Government to enact equal marriage, run one of the largest chains of food banks in the UK, and that many of our major charities were started as an expression of faith; many retaining their core values of social justice, equality, etc. But this is not new, think back to criticism made of RSPCA and Oxfam and the introduction of the lobbying bill.

Many charities will face difficult questions: to apply for Government funding, look elsewhere, or close? Or do we instead need a new definition of political lobbying?

Meanwhile our ally at the National Coalition for Independent Action, which announced recently it was winding up, has been tempted into one more last word in the form of an excellent paper from Penny Waterhouse, one of its co-founders, which ought to be required reading for CEO’s, not least in the voluntary youth sector.

Thinking Out Loud – The Job of Voluntary Services: what voluntary services should do, not do and might do

Over the last 10 years, given our criticism of the co-option of voluntary services by the state, NCIA has frequently been asked “so what should voluntary services do” and “surely voluntary services are better than no service at all” or told that “voluntary services do a better job than statutory or private services, so let them get on with it”.

So it seems in keeping that the last offering we have is on the proper job of voluntary services in the 21st century, set amidst the major shifts taking place in the role of the state and the take-over by private business of our common wealth. In Thinking Out Loud: The Job of Voluntary Services, Penny Waterhouse, co-founder of NCIA, lays out the three democratic roles for voluntary action against which to test what services should be, might be or should not be provided by voluntary services.

She argues that voluntary groups have a duty to make sure that the state takes responsibility for its citizens, suggests what these responsibilities are; and explains that charities cannot be relied on, structurally, or operationally, to meet such responsibilities.

She also suggests activities which only voluntary endeavour can provide, and where the state must keep out. And explores situations where either or both statutory and voluntary services might co-exist. Finally, she lists 10 principles which a voluntary organisation might consider before signing a public service contract.

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