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Ideological Rethink

The UK government believes that charities should support those in need – but not shape policy or speak truth to power.

In 2020, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, publicly described charities’ “gentleness” as their hallmark contribution to the national effort against Covid19: “At this time, when many are hurting and tired and confined, we need the gentleness of charity in our lives.” We heard a number of different views in reaction to this comment. To some, it marked a clear ideological shift from previous administrations, and a curtailment of power from the charities; to others, it was more a reflection about the centralisation of government. “This government is more ruthless, but also more romantic in a way.” In the eyes of one charity leader, “Rishi meant his comment as a compliment. He is very far from being the only person to express a limited, partial view of charities as if he were describing the whole.”

It is certainly clear that this incident has served to highlight the need for the third sector to re-evaluate its relationship with the state. “It has been a real wake-up call. Charities thought they enjoyed a bigger profile with the government. It was around building and delivering public services, supporting the Big Society, about volunteering and local action. But over the last six months, there has been a real downgrading of charities’ relationship with government. Almost a hostility towards them.” One suggestion we heard was that there are those in government who “wouldn’t mind seeing some charities fail, in order for them to be replaced by volunteerism or local community support. They think there should be less lobbying or hard-edged, policy-based charity.”

Not everyone agreed with this. Rather than see it as a problem, they prefer to turn it into an opportunity to shine a light onto the need to add new rigour into the delivery of services. They argue that influencing policymaking is a key tenet of the third sector, and because of their unique relationship with those in need of support, charities should continue to speak truth to power: “Many charities are rightly none-too-gentle, as they give voice to the oppressed and challenge injustices like modern slavery, patriarchy, racism, environmental destruction, or the other evil giants of our day.” However, they acknowledge the need to be more professional in the delivery of this “truth”, and emphasise the importance of evidence-based research to identify need, and validate activity. “One of the greatest problems with the charitable sector is that their approach to evidence is simplistic.” Looking ahead, “just frankly having some useful data built off strong qualitative and quantitative evidence – to show all stakeholders the areas where we need to work together to fix them, would really make a difference.”

An Implication: The need to appropriately support strong, quality, independent (of government) advocacy is a gap to be filled.

Discussion

4 Comments

Anonymous

Local authorities are now being expected to do more – by the public and government. More people trust their local authority than government.

Anonymous

In a way the covenant has been the victim of its own success – it was about creating a level playing field – not about giving an advantage.

Anonymous

We are seeing a rethink in high levels of the civil service in where Government ministers and their advisors take their advice from. They are not necessarily taking it form the civil service or from the known or traditional lobbyists, academia or the expected charities – they are taking it from a wider set of sources.

Anonymous

Will the covenant be supported / made law – and will the OVA succeed in changing behaviours, not only in the MOD but across all government departments.