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.