The love triangle between charities, councils and Government

12 September 2012

How would you describe the relationship between charities, councils and Government?

There’s often a bit of love and often a bit of hate. A love triangle perhaps? Or is it a case of unrequited love?

The relationship between the three, when it works well, can lead to a huge amount of positive change.  But when it breaks down it can be disastrous.

And particularly in times of austerity, when budgets are stretched and tempers frayed, there can be a great deal of tension between the three. Take charities campaigning against Government cuts for example; the Government pointing the finger at ‘wasteful councils’; and councils warning that they’ll struggle to provide any kind of service in the future if funding issues aren’t addressed.

These are real tensions that are currently being played out at Scope.

At the moment, we all know the Government is pushing a huge deficit reduction plan. As a result, there are big changes to welfare support. And councils, which provide many services disabled people rely on, such as social care, have had their budgets slashed.

Yet thousands of disabled people are reliant on the state for this support to live their everyday lives.

For Scope, a charity that is paid fees by councils to provide services for disabled people; this can create an interesting conundrum. If the Government reduces a council’s budget allocation and the council responds by reducing the fees it pays for a service, how should a charity like Scope respond?

Should we make up the shortfall?

For me, it always comes back to clarity about our role as a charity.  Why do we exist?

We want to bring about positive changes that can make this country a better place for disabled people and their families. This does not mean that we have to run services. In fact we don’t actually have to exist at all. But we choose to run services because we believe this is one of the most powerful ways of driving positive change.

This should therefore give us a clear steer on what we will spend our charitable income on. And in the case of making up the shortfall from councils, effectively subsidising the support the state provides does not lead to a positive change for disabled people.  In fact I would suggest that it would be taking a step backwards.

This may sound unsympathetic to some, but bear in mind that disabled people have fought long and hard to guarantee their rights to a decent standard of living. And for us to play a role in undermining this hard-won support by taking society back to a place where disabled people’s rights become dependent on the charitable benevolence of others is not an option.

So what is the Government’s role in this case?

We believe the Government has a duty to set the strategy, tone and vision for the overall support framework offered to disabled people; from support at home, to the workplace and out in the community. And in this case, its duty means ensuring disabled people get a fair deal and are able to live their lives, despite welfare reforms and budget cuts.

If it veers away from this duty, our responsibility as a charity, on behalf of the disabled people for whom we exist, is to challenge and lobby for the changes needed to rectify this. Our lobbying and campaigning can make the Government’s commitment to disabled people stronger.

And what about councils?

Budget cuts are, rightly or wrongly, a fact of life and dropping fees paid for service delivery may seem like the easy way out. However, there is a real and urgent need for these services, and many great examples of innovative services that have a genuinely positive impact on disabled people’s lives.

Yet we’re concerned that with the looming shadow of budget cuts, these innovative services could be threatened. We therefore have a role to work together with councils to develop new and innovative services for local communities and encourage them to commission them.

Take Scope’s Sleep Solutions service. This service supports families with disabled children who are struggling to establish sleep routines. A disrupted night’s sleep can wreak havoc on family life, disturbing education and therapies or placing a huge strain on family relationships. By tackling the root cause of this problem we can help ease the pressure on these families and prevent the need for further, more costly, council-funded interventions down the line.

So back to the relationship. Maybe it’s less of a love triangle and a bit more about mutual love?

The fact is that the Government, councils and charities like Scope exist for people and communities – and none of us can be truly successful without the others.


About the author

Richard Hawkes is chief executive of disability charity Scope.