Monday, February 07, 2011

Voluntary Organisations or Quangos?

I get seriously weary when people in the voluntary sector whinge about government funding cuts. Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, retiring chief of CSV is the latest whinger.

There's a simple answer to the funding problem, get off your lazy arses and raise some money.

I have many years experience in the charity world and, without wanting to sound like an old fogey, the voluntary sector's not what it used to be. Under the last governmnent it was effectively nationalised with the feeble charity sector accepting pots of cash from the government which they proceeded to waste on ineffectual pet projects and ludicrously expensive consultants and senior staff. Which is why the real work of the voluntary sector effectively stood still under Blair and Brown, but voluntary bodies became more political and more dependent on the politicians. Like everything Labour touch the voluntary sector is now a useless, bloated bureaucracy.

When I was in a position where I was advising new groups on establishing themselves I always advised them to avoid statutory funding where possible, as money always comes with strings attached. Charites should be free from those restraints so that they can remain independent and impartial, after all, part of their role should be to influence, and criticise where necessary both local and national government.

In my experience CSV typifies so many voluntary organisations. They are good at self-publicising, great at boasting about how much they do, but in reality only exist to further their senior staff, such as Dame Elisabeth Hoodless. A few years ago I had regular contact with CSV and could never work out what they actually did, certainly they were the worst of many bad voluntary organisations I came across.

It's now time the government, and local councils cut financial contributions to voluntary bodies, preferably to zero. Or to put it in politcal language, privatise the voluntary sector. We can then choose which charities we support, rather than having our taxes pumped into charities that we would never support on a voluntary basis. They would then have to prove their worth to you and me.


Stuart said...

I always advised them to avoid statutory funding where possible, as money always comes with strings attached. Charites should be free from those restraints so that they can remain independent and impartial, after all, part of their role should be to influence, and criticise where necessary both local and national government.

Finally someone has come out and said this. What a relief.

I would posit that this is especially true for "faith based" charities.

I am always concerned when any Christian group receives funding from secular sources, especially governmental sources. I personally believe that all Christian groups should be funded from the Christian purse, even if they are providing a public service. Using public funds always adds fuel to the secularist fires and Christian funding eliminates any unwanted political controlling influences.

Gregg said...

As a christian I agree with you Stuart.

Anonymous said...

This topic is linked to the subject of my academic research – I’m asking if the increase the work of Christian voluntary work equates to an increase in religion. Well, the basic answer – if looking at the ‘big’ charities, is ‘no’; many of the large, well known ‘Christian’ charities are often little more than voluntary organisations with ‘God’ thrown in as symbolic capital. This isn’t to dismiss their work, but it is necessary to view it a little more pragmatically. In reality many of these large organisations – often involved in residential care or homeless hostels etc. charge the market rate for the work they do. e.g. one of the hostels where I have worked charges around £350 a week – the main money coming from housing benefit and ‘Support People’ funding. Around £20 comes from donations or the funds of the charity itself.

The hostels the organisation runs are large – with a large staff team of up to fifty or so staff, yet only 3 or four of these staff will be members of the organisation, the rest of the staff are employees and religious belief is of little consequence. Is it the ‘government’ that forces this staffing ratio? The Christian and right-wing media suggest this. The truth, as far as I can see, is more pedestrian: few Christians are actually interested in low paid, low status work.

My research has involved a comparison with an Evangelical organisation that has specifically refused government money and yet provides a drop-in for the homeless and the vulnerable from its own funds. There are few paid staff – and the ones who are paid get the same wage, whether they are the cleaner or the CEO! It is not utopian and I do have misgivings about some aspects of the work. Yet I have been challenged by it and impressed with the self-evident care. There is much to be learned from this organisation. In fact my time there inspired the following in a letter to a friend the other week:

“I believe we cannot truly carry out any act of charity selflessly if we become concerned with how it makes us look as an individual or an organisation. Matt 6 seems bound up with the problem and I think it can be extended way beyond just almsgiving. The success of welfare is often seen in its professionalism. This is indeed a correct barometer if your measure is professionalism. The difficulty is that Christian charity is something else and although much Christian charity, in Britain, is professional and gets results, the problem is that it is not really ‘Christian’ because the sacrament and prophetic nature of charity (or tangible love - to give a better rendering of the word) is null and void because in the main the work is done by non-believers and paid for by the tax-payer. There can be no true ‘sacrament’ of the Kingdom if there is no cost (in either money or the more costly time and commitment) to the ‘Body of Christ’”

Another part of my research has been to interview members of the public and those belonging to faith communities. Interviewees from the latter group are often the ones who get it wrong when I ask about funding of faith based charity – many believing these charities are funded by donation and staffed by practicing Christians. So a further question has to be asked about whether that is part of the role these organisations fulfil – charity by proxy or ‘vicarious’ charity. Is a sort of syllogism being created?: “Christian organisations ‘do’ charity, I’m a Christian and so can bathe in some of the reflected glory and not have the inconvenience of getting my own hands dirty?” Perhaps... I am still working on this one...

Anonymous said...

P.S. The dependence of the voluntary sector on government money goes back further than Blair and Brown - the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 ushered in a good deal of the 'contract culture' of today esp. when coupled with the Local Gov Act 1988 and the then Tory desire to devolve services from local authorities to voluntary and private sector providers.

Similarly under Red Ken's GLC, voluntary organisations were the pawns caught between central government's New Right and local government far-left politics in the mid-80s... Wolch has a fantastic chapter on this in her book: Wolch, J.R. (1990) 'The Shadow State: Government and the Voluntary Sector in Transition' (written long before the Blair smile and Brown Frown cast their shadow over voluntary services - a very interesting and far-sighted book that is now proving prophetic!)

Personally 'real' charity and voluntary work has to come from society itself instead of this unhealthy dependence our society now has on the state. In reality, as with much dependence, it is also a negation of responsibility!

Gregg said...

Thank you for taking the time for such an informative response.

I accept your point about the 1990s and the growth of the 'Service Level Agreement' culture. It is all too easy to sound like all the ills of the world are down to Blair and Brown which, as you point out, they are not.

In the 1990s government, local and national, used the voluntary sector to provide services on the cheap. An example is a shopping service for elderly/housebound people I was involved with which was provided through a CVS. The local council provided funds for a manager and volunteers' expenses, the CVS recruited volunteers and managed the scheme.