Wednesday 22 September 2010

Rediscovering charity: defining our role with the State.

It has always struck me that many people working in the sector have bugger all knowledge of our history. It leads people to make all sorts of assertions about what charity is or isn't and it is often inaccurate. "We shouldn't run prisons", er yes we have, or "we are independent" of the State, er no we are not.

So I wanted to use today's Lecture to draw a broad sweep of our historical great British tradition in charity and to look at the entwined and essentially dual role of charity and the state.

For around 10 centuries charity, Church and the State were the same thing. Charity provided all public services. The break with Rome in 1536 led to an increasing secularisation of charity, and the great reforms of Elizabeth I, in the poor law and the magnificent statute of Elizabeth both in 1601, set the framework for social welfare for centuries, with charity making most of the provision but closely allied to the State.

The 18th and, particularly the 19th centuries saw change.

There was the growth of the campaigning and advocacy charity. And the industrial revolution placed strain on the dominant delivery model of charity services.

Then the creation of the welfare state made service provision universal and gave us the concept of a right to health provision and support in adversity.

My Lecture demonstrates that, contrary to assertions by people like Phillip Blond this did not mean a decline in civil participation; though it changed and developed. And voluntary action has remained strong. As has the essential partnership with the State.

So I conclude on the essential nature of that dual role for charity. Working with the State but retaining our ability to speak truth to power.

I also have three messages.

The attention on Big Society and what it means is good for our sector and helps us look afresh at our role and what we can do. It is challenging. It contains one danger.

1. My first message is to the Government: not to fall into the trap of forgetting how crucial partnership between the State and the third sector is; not to attack State provision and imagine they can leave charity and philanthropy to pick up the pieces. The concept of Big Society needs to breathe new life into the State-charity partnership.

2. To the next Labour leader: not to fall into the trap of forgetting that same partnership by defending the State and attacking voluntary and charity action. The role of an expanded charity sector and devolving power to citizens and communities is worthy of support.

3. And finally, for the sector: we must stand our ground in refusing to be politicised and demanding an active partnership between us and the State. One that is effectively funded and promoted. One that builds on big and small charity, national and local. And crucially never to forget as times become more difficult that it is our duty to speak “truth to power”.

To see the full lecture go here. I'm sure you will find it interesting!

No comments: