Conservative MP Chris Chope has tabled a
private member’s bill that he thinks will solve the problem of potential
volunteers being deterred by the prospect of waiting for a criminal records
Read more on MP Chris Chope’s bill for volunteers shows how difficult reforms of CRB checks will be…
Employment minister Chris Grayling issued a
triumphant-sounding statement to mark the announcement of the new Work
It read: “For the first time, those
charities and voluntary sector organisations across the country with the
know-how to help people with real difficulties in their communities get back to
work are being given the chance to do just that.”
Read more on Smoke and mirrors on the new Work Programme…
On Wednesday night I was at Lambeth town hall in Brixton, south London, where around 150 protesters occupied the council chamber during a meeting, forcing councillors to leave.
The council meeting was to pass a budget that contained cuts of around Â£79m over three years. Once the councillors had left (to hold a private meeting at which the budget was passed), the protesters declared a “people’s democracy” in which everyone could voice their concerns.
One of the many things that struck me during the protesters’ meeting was the unions’ reluctance to let the voluntary sector run services. When the protesters started talking about a council plan to let voluntary and community groups run the borough’s playgrounds, the reactions ranged from scorn to pity.
“The voluntary sector just can’t run our playgrounds, no matter how well-intentioned it is,” said one of the town hall occupiers. “It’s just not capable of doing it.”
Others took a more hostile approach, muttering loudly about voluntary groups “taking jobs” from the public sector.
I hadn’t realised until last night how much of a problem this could be for the sector. Charities are under pressure from both sides of the political spectrum: those on the right think they shouldn’t get state funding in the first place, and those on the left think that when they do they are undermining the public sector.
This could be a particular problem in Lambeth, where the council has a radical plan to become Britain’s first “co-operative council” in which services are provided by voluntary groups wherever possible.
But I’m sure it won’t be limited to Lambeth. Reluctance, or in some cases open hostility, from those in the public sector – particularly when their jobs are at risk – must be making life hard for voluntary groups across the country.
Read more on Why are the unions so hostile towards the voluntary sector?…
Saying that politicians sometimes manipulate statistics is like saying that footballers sometimes fancy their teammates’ girlfriends. Not only is it an understatement, but it’s also one of those things that everyone assumes to be their modus operandi. And it only makes the headlines when a particularly audacious episode takes place.
But the latest trend in abusing the numbers is bothering me more than usual. Both Francis Maude and Nat Wei have said this week that 75 per cent of charities receive no government funding. In both cases, the figure was used as evidence that the big society can function despite public spending cuts.
I’m sure it’s true that three quarters of the 180,000 charities registered with the Charity Commission get no cash from the state. But how many of those are defunct, barely operational or tiny in scale?
A more accurate statistic would be that, according to the NCVO’s Civil Society Almanac, around 36 per cent of the sector’s overall income comes from the public purse. And, funnily enough, this figure wouldn’t prevent Maude and Wei from making their point quite effectively.
Of course, there are other statistics for charities to be annoyed about. Nick Hurd’s repeated claim that the government is pumping Â£470m into the voluntary sector, when in fact this is just a reduced version of the usual Office for Civil Society budget, grates somewhat.
So does David Cameron’s insistence that the Â£100m Transition Fund proves the government is supporting the sector – with the notable absence of any recognition that charities and voluntary groups will pay around Â£150m more in VAT this year than last year, and receive around Â£100m less in Gift Aid because of the end of transitional relief.
But somehow, the 75 per cent figure is the most annoying part of the smoke and mirrors – a phrase Nick Hurd used to use a lot when castigating the Labour government. It’s a blatant insult to the intelligence of the sector and the public.
Read more on The smoke and mirrors are getting annoying…
Back in October, when I went to the
Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, the big society was everywhere. It
would have been physically impossible for one person to go to every conference session that
had the phrase in its title.
Read more on The tune has changed for the big society…
Grabbing a quick break in a busy day yesterday, I nipped to the less-than-glamorous destination that is Hammersmith Broadway, a small shopping arcade built around the entrance to the tube station.
During my roughly 100-metre walk through the centre, I was stopped three times.
The first was by a heavily made-up woman trying to sell me a bag of “luxury beauty products”. I said I wasn’t interested, and carried on walking, feeling a bit harrassed.
The second was by a burly bloke asking me to join the local gym. I told him (truthfully) that I was already a member, and carried on.
By this point I was starting to get annoyed that I couldn’t just be left alone to pick up a coffee (and, I admit, concerned that I must’ve looked like I needed both of the products…)
And then I was stopped again. This time it was by a friendly World Vision chugger, asking me to sign up. My response, I admit, was more curt than usual. I certainly didn’t stop to talk to him.
There’s something really wrong with sending chuggers to a busy place like this.
By lumping themselves in with those flogging cheap make-up and gym memberships, charities become just another annoyance to busy shoppers who might otherwise be supportive of their work. Worse, they look like they’re only interested in getting at your wallet, like all the other salespeople in the arcade.
Read more on Chuggers should steer clear of the other salespeople…
Hazel Blears is back, and she’s set her
sights on the voluntary sector.
The fiery readhead (now with a toned-down
auburn hairdo) has been keeping a close eye on the government’s big society
agenda, which she says it has stolen from Labour. And now she’s trying to
Read more on Hazel Blears risks stepping on Roberta Blackman-Woods’ toes…
While flicking through the Office for Civil
Society’s green paper on commissioning reform,
I came across something that might alarm the sector.
The document is looks at ways to make it easier for
civil society organisations to bid for public service delivery contracts.
Sounds uncontroversial enough.
Read more on The commissioning reform green paper contains something that could alarm the sector…
On Friday night, my fellow reporter Sophie Hudson and I slept rough in Spitalfields Market.
No, it wasn’t because times are tough in the journalism business these days. It was a fundraising event held by the charity Action for Brazil’s Children.
We managed to smash our fundraising target of Â£150 each: so far we have raised Â£456.65 between us, and there are promises of more now that we’ve done it.
The challenge was tough enough to warrant the sponsorship. Sleeping on a cardboard box on a concrete floor in the middle of November, even with plenty of layers, is not easy.
The next morning we felt groggy, dishevelled and very conspicuous as we walked towards Liverpool Street station with our sleeping bags and ruffled hair, smelling rather stale. We realised how quickly a homeless person could become a social outcast.
But we also realised how much potential there is for charities to raise funds by holding events that have a strong connection to their cause.
About 50 people were willing to sleep rough on Friday night, many of them socially aware, campaigning students looking for a new experience. It’s an exciting market for charities, and one that could probably be tapped into further with more unusual, attention-grabbing events.
But one thing did strike me about the event on Friday: there was little connection between the event and the charity’s cause area. Action for Brazil’s Children funds education projects in Brazil – a worthy cause but one with little connection to sleeping rough in London.
The experience has made me much more likely to give to charity, but I will probably choose a UK-based homelessness charity rather than Action for Brazil’s Children.
It begs the question: Should charities hold exciting fundraising events for their own sake, or should they hold off, in order to avoid saturating the market and to leave the space free for charities to whom the events are more relevant?
PS: Visit our Virgin Money Giving sponsorship page if you do still want to sponsor us.
Read more on We survived the Homeless Hacks challenge……