The Government’s attitude towards the voluntary and community sector (VCS) has been exposed for what it really is by the ongoing chaos of the last several weeks. Their disastrous Budget introduced the infamous ‘charity tax’ and revealed that the Chancellor did not consider it necessary to speak to even his own Cabinet Office team in advance of the decision, let alone consult with the sector itself.
It is clear that the gap between the Government’s ‘Big Society’ rhetoric and the harsh reality of their policies is widening. Time and time again we see new evidence that the Government’s policies are hitting the sector hard and resulting in instability and uncertainty.
A report published this week by New Philanthropy Capital has revealed that over two thirds of charities are being forced to cut frontline services at a time when many of these services are seeing increased demand. On top of this, almost three quarters of charities are having to make staff redundant, adding to the already soaring number of people out of work as a result of this Government’s policies.
These shocking figures reflect the issues and concerns raised with me on my visits to VCS organisations; the same issues are highlighted again and again with little sign the Government is even listening, let alone taking action desperately needed.
VCS organisations are showing brilliant and remarkable innovation in the face of such hostility from the Tory-led Government but this week’s evidence, and the evidence building from numerous additional reports, suggests that this will not be enough to prevent serious long term damage to the sector as a result of the Government’s actions.
The Government’s failure to support the sector in this year’s Budget has proved they are not serious about working with charities and voluntary organisations, or the millions of people they represent. The Budget was a lost opportunity to take real action and the failure to make the most of the Queen’s Speech just two months later simply confirmed the Government’s disinterest in the VCS.
Yet instead we saw George Osborne announce a ‘charity tax’; a decision that was not only at odds with the stated core values of his party’s increasingly neglected ‘Big Society’ project, but one that demonstrated a complete disregard for the experience and expertise of the sector itself.
A full 10 weeks after the Budget announcement the Government have been forced to announce an embarrassing u-turn on this issue, a decision that brings their u-turn tally to three this week alone.
Let’s be clear, charities need all the support they can get but the Government’s latest u-turn will not reverse the damage they have already inflicted on one of the most valuable sectors in our society.
While we see the ‘Big Society’ agenda within the Coalition overruled and undermined time and time again by the Coalition’s big hitters, it appears that even the Chancellor cannot ignore the vociferous opposition from the VCS and the considerable dissent from his party’s own MPs.
If David Cameron and George Osborne thought through their unfair policies in the first place, this embarrassing u-turn would not have been necessary. Instead they have shown just how out of touch and incompetent they really are.
In a desperate attempt to distract attention from the ‘charity tax’ fiasco and the mounting evidence detailing the devastating true impact of government cuts on charities, the Government has increasingly focused on the role it sees charities and voluntary organisations playing in the delivery of public services. But the procurement process is not fit for purpose and yet again it is clear the concerns of the VCS have not been heard, leaving the Government dangerously out of touch.
There needs to be urgent action taken to address the hidden crisis that is the Tory-led Government’s commissioning process. Over 90 per cent of charities said they now face a riskier future in the current commissioning environment; an absolutely shocking figure. Many charities are uneasy about payment by results contracts and the shift away from grant based funding is something that needs to be urgently addressed if we are to achieve the best possible services.
The Government’s contempt and disregard for charities and voluntary organisations is not just arrogant and incompetent, it is dangerous. I am in absolutely no doubt that the people who are losing out from the Government’s systematic destruction of support for the community and voluntary sector are the service users themselves, often the most vulnerable in our society.
Jon Trickett is the shadow secretary of state for the Cabinet Office