Orlando Fraser: Freeing the Third Sector to achieve its potential
Oh baby – eighteen months on, several thousand hours of work, hearings, polling, research and media briefings later, I finally have an inkling of what it was like for my wife to give birth to our gorgeous daughter a few months ago. I am talking about the delivery this week of the section of IDS’ Social Justice Commission’s report dealing with the voluntary sector, produced by the Third Sector subgroup, which I chaired, and Cameron Watt deputy chaired. Our report will be found at the end Iain’s main report at volume 6 and, although much of the focus of the press attention so far has been on the Commission’s tax proposals to strengthen families, I recommend persevering with your reading to get to our section on the voluntary sector – because the proposals offer serious hope in the battle against poverty in the UK today, and in promoting the socially responsible society David Cameron wants.
Essentially, we believe that both the public and the Government has seriously under-valued the voluntary sector’s importance in fighting poverty – although their qualities of innovation, commitment, flexibility and independence place them at a huge advantage over public and private agencies in helping hard to reach communities. This makes it our duty to maximise their use in fighting poverty, not just to consider them as an optional add-on to the state. We need to increase charitable giving, volunteering, and Government support dramatically. As for the Government, it accepts the third sector’s importance in principle – Brown’s Treasury itself has stated that voluntary sector organisations are often “of higher quality, more efficient, more equitable and more personalised... than either public or private delivery” – but has woefully failed to uphold this principle in practice, in either significant funding or other support. And this is after 10 years of Blair, who at least showed some enthusiasm for the sector – unlike statist Brown who appears to hold no candle for it at all.
So much for the fragile state of the voluntary nation – what are we going to do about it?
First, we need to inspire a radical increase in charitable giving. We aim to do this by radically simplifying Gift-Aid (which no longer becomes opt-in, but assumed to be a certain high percentage of all charitable income of a charity), promoting smaller local poverty-fighting charities through a substantial “trustmarking” social enterprise website; enhanced gift-aid for poverty-fighting charities; and the introduction of charitable venture trusts, corporate social bonds, and school giving vouchers for Year 6 amongst many other proposals.
Second, to get volunteering going again, particularly amongst the young, we propose a “V” volunteering card to enable young and socially excluded people to earn credits from volunteering in their community, with hard benefits (pop concert tickets, sports equipment), and soft benefits (CV build up, right to take driving test early etc) accruing alike. We will also introduce team volunteering projects into the Year 9 PSHE school curriculum, promote employee volunteering, introduce assistance for Third Sector Organisations (TSO's) to afford risk insurance, and also direct Government-funded volunteering agencies to apply more of their resources to poverty-fighting.
Third, in looking at improving the Government’s game, we propose (in addition to the central roles proposed for the sector by the other Working Groups in relationship education, home school support, residential and prison drug treatment, welfare to work programmes, and credit unions) to make central government departments and local authorities produce strategies to maximise the use of the third sector in their areas. To make Government funding fairer, we will give teeth to the Compact; and to make it less prescriptive, we propose a deal to give TSO’s greater freedom with statutory funds in exchange for better information on results. We also make proposals on fairer Vat treatment, stakeholder voucher schemes, increased community asset transfer, promoting Community Growth Trusts, and funding smaller community charities through a Community Foundation endowment of £50m, and a much greater share of BIG Lottery funds.
Fourth, we need to eradicate the burgeoning discrimination we are uncovering against statutory funding of faith-based organisations. These organisations, since time immemorial, have provided a disproportionate amount of the UK’s voluntary poverty relief – and yet we are finding increasing examples of cases where their religious ethos results in statutory funding being removed, including the scandalous ending of Dartmoor Prison’s successful voluntary sector drug programme. Our proposals would prohibit discrimination for or against TSOs on faith grounds - whilst also ensuring that no-one should be forced to receive treatment from such an organisation.
Fifth and finally, we need to strengthen the sector’s independence, which is vital to its success with vulnerable communities. We want a review of the impact of statutory funding on the independence of the sector, together with a dedicated place in Cabinet for the Minister for the Third Sector, and a Third Sector Select Committee to scrutinise the Government’s treatment of the sector.
All in all, we think that our proposals will not only help Britain’s most vulnerable receive the help they need from the voluntary sector – but also that the voluntary sector itself will be freed to achieve its true potential.
If you agree, or disagree, please let your voice be heard in David Cameron’s forthcoming manifesto consultation exercise, or, if you prefer, just comment here….