Doing it for charity?

Saturday 29 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Henry Moore Gallery

Charities and voluntary organisations have never been more in vogue than they are now. The voluntary and community sector was courted by the previous government, with a desk in the Cabinet Office; and is now charged with delivering Cameron’s flagship idea, the Big Society. Arguably it has never been in such rude health. In England there are around 500,000 organisations operating at a local level, and 140,000 mainly small charities, most of which are reliant on volunteers. Added to this are cooperatives with millions of members, housing associations worth billions of pounds, and social enterprises.

But there is growing disquiet in the sector in the wake of last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Should charities be running public services as local authorities implement unprecedented spending cuts, or are they themselves at risk as service providers? Should they be providing services at all, or does this compromise their independence as lobbyists for social causes and needy groups? It seems that for all their activity, little is said of charity per se. Whether it was faith that gave rise to them, like the Salvation Army, or they were provoked into being by populary outcry, like Shelter after the BBC drama Cathy Come Home, the concerns of charitable organisations used to go beyond the immediate demands of contracts and Compacts.

Has the voluntarism and sense of injustice that once spurred on campaigners given way to the poisoned chalice of working in partnership with the state? While policy makers see community groups as a way to build community cohesion, or to provide an authentic and distinctive voice for residents and service users, how realistic is this? For whom do charities speak today? As the cuts take their toll we may be seeing the cost of the sector’s dependency on the patronage of the state. Is there an alternative?

Listen to session audio:


Dave Clements
adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.

Simon Blake
chief executive, Brook; chair, Compact Voice, the voluntary sector network

Ed West
features editor, Catholic Herald; features writer, Daily Telegraph

Sheila Lewis
director, Volanti Consulting

Produced by
Dave Clements adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.
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