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Charities are servants of Government

The National Coalition for Independent Action have recently completed their Inquiry into the Future of Voluntary Services and published their final report - Fight or Fright: Voluntary Services in 2015.

This calls on voluntary and community services to face up to a decisive moment in the history of voluntary action. In a blistering critique of the threats posed to the values and work of the voluntary sector, voluntary groups are challenged to fight for the rights of the people they serve, protect their own independence and resist the privatisation of public services. NCIA also accuses leadership bodies and major charities of squandering the unique respect and radical space that charities and voluntary groups have occupied in British society, by allowing themselves to become the willing servants of Government and of private corporations as they take over public services.

The final report in the series Fight or Fright: Voluntary Services in 2015 has been welcomed by voluntary organisations, including the Refugee Council and Children England. The report concludes that:

  • The environment for most voluntary services, especially local groups, is difficult, hostile and getting worse for the people they exist to serve.
  • There has been widespread acceptance of the shift to commercial relationships, cuts to public services and the privatisation of what remains. This has allowed both Labour and Coalition Governments to use voluntary services groups to drive through policies that create desperate hardship amongst poor and vulnerable people.
  • The ideological basis for these changes has been largely embraced or ignored, with voluntary groups expected to morph into “private sector lookalikes” and struggle to the front of the queue to pick up contracts. Fear of losing out has kept them in line.
  • There has been a shameful failure of leadership. The sector’s leadership bodies – especially but not exclusively NCVO and ACEVO - have responded to pressures from the State and the private sector in complicit and supine ways. They have failed to stimulate, let alone organise, any meaningful opposition to slashing of services for poor people and disadvantaged communities, and direct cuts to these people’s living standards. And they have actively promoted partnerships with private corporations with reputations for criminality, dishonesty, poor employment practice and other abuses.

The report's concerns are echoed in the reports from the Barings Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector; the final "Big Society Audit" from Civil Exchange; and, initiatives such as the Declaration of Interdependence, produced by Children England and the TUC.

Penny Waterhouse, Co-Director of NCIA and co-author of the report, said:

“Our inquiry has demonstrated, in unprecedented breadth and depth that the voluntary sector is facing its biggest threat for decades and major charity leaders are colluding in practices that could kill it off. Voluntary services are faced with a choice: to regain their true role in civil society, separate from, but complementary to, the state and private sector; or continue to play the markets and become part of privatised welfare provision delivering profit-driven services of questionable quality.

"8 years ago, when we began to build our Coalition, we were viewed as extremist and old-fashioned. But ‘austerity’ policies and outsourcing obsessions of Labour and Conservative governments have sharpened a widespread sense of injustice. Increasing numbers have come to support NCIA’s principled mission to demand that we take a stand to defend the distinctive and precious contribution that voluntary services can make to a humane society.”

Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:

“Fight or Fright exposes the reality that, whatever the sales pitch says about empowerment, contracting means conscription. Instead of advocating, we end up rationing; instead of dissenting and challenging, we end up gatekeeping and defending the status quo. With public faith in the orthodoxies of austerity and privatisation diminishing across Europe, Fight or Fright provides a welcome and timely impetus for us to change the weather in the UK too.”

Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of Children England said:

“Fight or Fright is a characteristically powerful, strident and well-evidenced report from NCIA. Surely every voluntary group will recognise the breadth of issues and profound challenges laid out in this report. NCIA’s Inquiry, and their passionate commitment to sound the alarm bell about our future, embodies one of the most important roles voluntary action can play in our society – to speak out without fear, and to fight for what you believe is right. Whether you agree with every word or not, their voice is important, as is this report.”

Dr Simon Duffy, Director of The Centre for Welfare Reform, said:

"Over the past five years our research has shown that Government has targeted disabled people, people in poverty, refugees and other minority groups for cuts. The United Kingdom should be ashamed of its policies and of the strategy of stigmatisation which underpins them. In the past charities played a central role in defending minority groups from such abuse. Today, as NCIA has correctly analysed, most charities have largely failed to do their job."

Fight or Fright calls for:

  • Voluntary services groups to speak out about and act against the cuts and privatisation of rights and services, as an ethical duty;
  • The replacement of contracts by grants to support charitable aims rather than government agendas;
  • Current commissioning and procurement practices to be abandoned and replaced by participative and integrated funding mechanisms that are fit for purpose;
  • Voluntary services groups to set ethical conditions as part of any contracting, and to refuse to allow their resources, especially volunteer effort, to generate profit for private firms;
  • Members of representative bodies, such as NCVO and ACEVO, to make them accountable, and seek the voice and action needed to challenge cuts and austerity measures - or vote with their feet and re-build a collective voice elsewhere.

This final report is a summary of the material contained in 17 separate reports produced as part of the Inquiry. Go here to download and read these reports: