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:

 

Speakers
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

Chair:
Sheila Lewis
director, Volanti Consulting

Produced by
Dave Clements adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.
Recommended readings
Charities should accept their game is up

The Big Society, while profoundly irritating for many in the charity sector, was the culmination of an ever more intimate relationship between state and the so-called civil-society sector. Consequently, far from making us more free, it has only further ingrained a long-standing relationship of dependence.

Dave Clements, Independent, 2 November 2011

Charity Begins at Home?

While out converging with Corporate Social Responsibility enthusiasts in trendy Smithfield, our flat screen TV was being 40½ inched through our front living room window.

Dave Clements, Huffington Post, 23 September 2011

Charities fight for survival as funding slashed across country

More than 2,000 charities are being forced to close services and sack staff as local authorities slash their funding, or in some cases completely withdraw it, according to research published on Tuesday.

Randeep Ramesh, Guardian, 2 August 2011

Want people to cough up for charity? Put on some Lycra

It would be unthinkable to simply ask friends to donate to a good cause. But modesty evaporates in the London Marathon

Zoe Williams, Guardian Comment is free, 14 April 2011

Can the Big Society work without Big Charities onside?

Can this Big Idea get a fair hearing if the bosses of top charities attack it? Right now popular and well known charities, hooked on the crack cocaine of government handouts, are wailing like mad as their grants are reduced, and they are turning their ire on the Big Society.

Neil O'Brien, Daily Telegraph, 14 February 2011

How a Christian charity evolved into state-funded 'equality' campaigners

The YWCA, formerly the Young Women’s Christian Association, has dropped its title after 156 years because “it no longer stands for who we are”.

Ed West, Telegraph, 7 January 2011

Rediscovering Charity: Defining Our Role with the State

This lecture looks back at the great historic tradition of charity in the British Isles (a tradition that has been described by one American academic as the greatest in the world) and explores how that great charitable tradition and heritage has shaped this inheritance. It explores the ebbs and flows of the relationship between charity and the state and warns of the dangers of a breakdown of political consensus over the role of charities and the dangers of party politicisation of the charity endeavour.

Stephen Bubb, ACEVO, 2010

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