Thursday 29 June 2017

Politics and our Third Sector

I was delighted when I saw that Baroness Dianne Hayter had been elected as the Deputy Leader of the Labour Lords. Dianne, when she was Director of Alcohol Concern, was one of the founders of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), some 30 years ago. She has been a passionate advocate of our sector in the Lords since her 2010 elevation.

She joins Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Leader of Labour in the Lords. Angela was the Third Sector Minister in the Brown Government and she knows the importance and value of the sector in driving change. She and Dianne are powerful advocates for us.

But what of the Government benches?

It's interesting that two such prominent sector stalwarts are in such positions. It contrasts with the decline in interest in charities by recent governments. The position of Third Sector Minister, a post set up in the Cabinet Office by Tony Blair in 2006, at the heart of the executive, and given to then-rising star Ed Miliband, has been repeatedly downgraded. Angela and Ed were Minsters of State. Now we have an Under-Secretary in the Culture, Media & Sport Department, where the current post-holder is also responsible for sport, a busy and respectable portfolio in itself.

Charity is so far down the pecking order it hardly matters in Whitehall. And let's face it, you would be hard-pressed to find mentions of charity in recent party manifestos.

To be fair, this decline in interest is matched by the pusillanimous behaviour of many charities, which now appear to find it hard to say “BOO!” to a goose , let alone anyone in government. These days unless you flex a muscle you will be walked over. I may not like the DUP but they know what they want and bully their way to getting it.

This is degrading and stupid. What we have seen with the tragedy at Grenfell Tower is how impotent the state can be, but how powerful charities and civil society are.
Increasingly third sector work in social care, in hospitals, in disability roles, in rehabilitation and employment, and in education, charities and social enterprises play a major role. More than a third of all mental health services are provided by charity.

We know that public services are under strain. We know that state provision often neglects the consumer or beneficiary. We know that often the third sector has the answer to better and more cost effective service. Look at care for the elderly: a third of beds in hospital are occupied by the frail elderly.  Many of them could be better cared for at home or in community provision. That is cheaper and better.

I'm giving a lecture at New College, Oxford on Monday on the history of British charity. We have a proud and noble tradition. I will speak of our record in public service delivery, our campaigning and advocacy that have achieved so much social reform. Sadly it appears that for some this record is hardly worth a thought.

The government is wilfully neglecting the role charities can play. It's time the current administration woke up to the power and potential of our sector.

Sir Stephen Bubb