Charities must campaign strongly against unjust welfare changes, says NCVO chief

Sector must not be fainthearted in the face of a "real hardening of culture and public attitudes" toward those claiming benefits, says Sir Stuart Etherington

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

Charities must "hold their nerve" when campaigning against welfare changes that threaten to affect their service users, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, will say in a speech at midday today.

At an event on welfare reform, organised by Inside Government, Etherington will say that charities face a "real hardening of culture and public attitudes" toward those claiming benefits, but must speak out on behalf of vulnerable people: "This is not an arena for the fainthearted. We have seen national newspapers criticising charities working with welfare recipients."

And he will say that charities face a difficult environment in continuing to work with government while campaigning against changes in policy that adversely affect beneficiaries. He will say that the NCVO "stands ready to push back against any attack on campaigning", that it is one of charities’ core roles to speak up on behalf of vulnerable people and that this right is enshrined in charity law.

"Our sector is being hit from all sides. As soon as they speak out about the effects of the cuts, organisations are immediately accused of being political or scaremongering.

"I am frankly at a loss to understand how, as a country, we’ve got to the point where children’s charities are criticised for speaking up about child poverty.

"It is right that, although we may not take political sides, charities must challenge policies if they believe them to be unjust."

He will say that charities also need to meet the logistical challenge of providing advice for vulnerable beneficiaries. At a time when the budget for advice services is being slashed, millions of people will need help to negotiate an online-only benefit system for the first time, he will say.

"At the front line, it’s likely that charities will encounter more and more complex cases, requiring more intensive and specialist support. This additional strain on organisations’ limited resources comes at a time when funding is already being cut."

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