Government should not rely on charities to run essential services, says Penny Waterhouse

Penny Waterhouse
Penny Waterhouse

The charity sector should not be relied upon, either structurally or operationally, to run services that should be carried out only by the state, according to a final report by the campaigning group the National Coalition for Independent Action.

The report’s author, Penny Waterhouse, co-founder of the NCIA, which was set up in 2006 and opposed the perceived loss of the independence of charities before its closure at the end of last year, says the voluntary sector is, like the private sector, "neither universal nor democratically accountable" and not "equipped for the job" of addressing essential needs.

The report highlights several areas in which services should be run only by the state, including education and learning, the arts, culture and heritage, health and social care, international aid and shelter and housing. 

It argues that the ability to fulfil these functions needs legislative powers, political and moral authority, governance and adequate resources, and should  therefore be carried out only by the public sector.

"When it comes to my rights, health and wellbeing, I don’t want to be reliant on the market or on the ebb and flow of voluntary services," says Waterhouse in the report.

"There are no protections when they fail (which they increasingly do), and who will then blow the whistle on poor voluntary services? Conversely, I don’t want voluntary services to be prescribed and determined by statutory requirements, as this compromises the ‘ungoverned space’ of civil society."

The report says the voluntary sector exists to do what the government cannot, will not or should not to meet social need, and says that depriving the state of its responsibilities "undermines its own capacity and competence" and jeopardises the function of voluntary services within civil society.

Waterhouse concludes that although voluntary services "can make a fist of offering good quality services", in the context of privatisation and outsourcing "it is no longer the case that voluntary services are ‘good’ by definition". 

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