Debra Allcock Tyler: My reasons not to be cheerful

We can be justified in inferring that the government doesn't care what we think and will not take our advice, writes our columnist

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

I have, quite rightly, been challenged to justify my recent statements that this government is not pro-charity. So here are my reasons not to be cheerful, part 1 ...

The Minister When Rob Wilson was reappointed as Minister for Civil Society in the late afternoon of 12 May, it was the very last position to be filled in a four-day-long reshuffle. This happened last time too: our minister is the equivalent of that unpopular kid that always gets picked last!

Neither was it announced in real time on Twitter like the other appointments; instead his name appeared on a later list published by No 10. And we found out only because the sector media – Third Sector and others – chased the Cabinet Office. Clearly the PM sees the minister with the charity portfolio as less important than the Ministers Without (any bleedin') Portfolio, who were announced a day earlier. It's hardly a good omen, is it?

Then there's the minister himself. OK, he has (kind of) apologised for getting into a Twitter row about a rise in homelessness in his constituency when he told his challenger not to be a bad loser. But this defensive reaction does suggest a profound lack of understanding and empathy for the genuine fears our sector has about the future for their beneficiaries under this government.

The legislation Recent and planned legislation that affects us is mostly unnecessary and starts from a premise that charities aren't to be trusted. The Tory manifesto celebrated the lobbying act as something that would reduce the influence of money in politics, when in fact it's a dog's breakfast of a law that has attracted huge opposition from charities. The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill purports to protect charities from unscrupulous fraudsters and wannabe jihadists, but amounts to a regulatory land grab by a regulator under pressure, giving it further powers over who is fit to be a trustee and reducing the right of independent charities to manage their own affairs within the law.

The funding The commitment to dubious methods such as payment-by-results public service contracts and social impact bonds looks set to be rolled out across more services and policy areas, despite increasing evidence from many charities that, for the most part, these approaches don't get the best out of us.

Influencing policy-making The manifestos of all parties had little to say about charities. In fairness, the Conservative one showed marginally more consideration, with a minor initiative on volunteering. However – in contrast to 2010 – there was little, if any, effort to consult the sector on formulating it. Ill-thought-through plans, such as the proposal to force housing associations to sell off social housing, were clearly not consulted on properly. Other initiatives, such as ramping up compulsory work placements for people on benefits (which is not volunteering) attract little support.

I think we can be justified in inferring that the government doesn't care what we think; it's not interested in what we know and will not take our advice. I like being right – I practise it a lot. But this time I hope I'm proved badly wrong.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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