This year’s Labour Party Conference is taking place online between 19 and 22 September. In light of this, Rachael Maskell MP, Shadow Minister for the Voluntary and Community Sector, has authored this blog for NPC on Labour’s programme for charities. We have also recently published this blog by Baroness Barran, Minister for Civil Society. Rachael Maskell MP recently spoke at one of our future of the sector events. Click here to watch the event in full.
As the voluntary and community sector emerges out of this crisis and the furlough scheme fades, thousands of redundancy notices are being served from within a sector that is struggling. As they cry out for urgent help for their survival, charities and social enterprises have been delivering vital support to help millions of people survive throughout this pandemic, with every form of assistance possible.
The lonely, the hungry, the shielded, the sick, the vulnerable, and countless more have been in receipt of new levels of support, while organisations have continued to deliver outstanding services to their beneficiaries.
While constantly hoping for a life-ring to be thrown by government, hope is now dwindling as the harsh reality of having to balance books and pay bills sinks home. Unlike so many businesses, many charities have been unable to benefit from grants or loans to keep their head above water.
It hurts. Not least as the sector, scarred by the global economic crash, rebuilt itself stronger than before. It diversified its risk, built up its reserves, sought new funding routes and drove efficiency. Despite its new robust confidence, the pandemic has taken down the sector, as it does all who fall in its path.
If that were not enough, demand has soared, new needs have arisen and the ever-increasing requirements of the public have crept up. None would argue that charities, social enterprises, mutual aid groups and community associations don’t deliver extraordinary support to their communities, reaching deep into their needs. However, there is barely an organisation that is feeling secure right now.
The 700,000 trustees who give up their time are searching for solutions, the 20 million volunteers who pour out the generosity that we are so eager to associate with our national pride are stepping up like never before, and funders are looking at how they can stretch their pounds further, but without the government meeting the sector halfway with a significant rescue package, the state will pick up a far more costly tab, both financially and socially.
Labour has not only heard the cry and made the case for the state to invest in charities at this time, but wants the sector to be able to not only navigate its way through this new world we are emerging into but to help lead it.
Under a programme set to secure funding, to enable advocacy and voice, and to renew relationships, Labour’s programme of prioritising ‘pound, power and partnerships’ seeks to transform the whole civil society sector to a place where it can have renewed confidence in government and not only deliver vital aid itself but enable the government, through drawing on its vast wealth of experiences, to be rooted in providing many of the solutions that governments through generations have wrestled with.
With such expertise and depth of understanding of how our people and planet can thrive, why wouldn’t governments, local and national, want to work far closer with the sector? Why wouldn’t they want the sector to be at the table as co-leaders with themselves, ensuring the very best delivery of all that the state should do?
Dusting down the ‘Compact’ that Labour developed with the sector while in government, new partnerships need building and old friendships renewing to ensure that society reaps the maximum benefit, and taxpayers the best of investments.
But Labour doesn’t want a relationship which is locked behind closed doors, where we cherry pick the voices we want to hear and embarrassingly hide from those we don’t. Labour certainly will not tolerate the gagging of the sector, which the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition legislated for in the guise of the Lobbying Act. No, we want to repeal the suppression of the sector and to help it find its voice and its power again.
Are we surprised that we have witnessed a rise in homelessness, soaring levels of vulnerabilities and crippling levels of poverty, when organisations are too fearful to bite the hand that feeds them? They have had to comply to their paymasters and learn how to survive a hostile environment. Well we want to hear those powerful voices, have our conscience challenged, and to move to meet the needs for those they advocate for.
When we see entrenched levels of structural and institutional racism, it is because black voices have rarely been sought and, if we are honest, have rarely been heard. But, if the organisations that represent those voices are barely surviving their hand to mouth existence and have little capacity beyond meeting urgent need, the entrenched racism in society will rarely be challenged and gross injustices fall. This is how the sector is not working; it is an example of why things have to change.
Labour is ready to embark on a new journey that welcomes the power of the sector to transform civil society, because that is the ambition of our Party. It is why we exist. It is our roots, our core and our future.
Thank you to Rachael Maskell MP, Shadow Minister for the Voluntary and Community Sector.