Philanthropy alone cannot solve society's problems, says Victor Adebowale

It is not the answer to the challenges we face, the crossbench peer tells a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference

Victor Adebowale
Victor Adebowale

Philanthropy alone cannot solve the problems that British society faces, according to Victor Adebowale, chair of the umbrella body Social Enterprise UK.

Speaking at a Conservative Party conference fringe event in Manchester this week on how devolution could be used to help cities, the crossbench peer, who is also chief executive of the support charity Turning Point, said society could not rely on corporate social responsibility or philanthropy alone to provide the services and support that many deprived communities were in need of.

He also said many social problems such as homelessness should not be left to charity to solve.

"There’s nothing wrong with giving, nothing wrong with philanthropy, but let’s not fool ourselves that in the 21st century this is the answer to the challenges we face. At best I think it’s a catalyst," he said. "If kindness was equally distributed we wouldn’t need public services."

He said one of the problems was that philanthropists were often not keen on "unsexy subjects", making it difficult for those areas to secure funding.  

"There are some aspects of society and social infrastructure that we should be outraged by and we shouldn’t leave to charity - homelessness or food, for example," he said.

"We should accept that is a failure - it’s a failure of political vision, it’s a failure of public service reform and delivery, it’s a failure of market policing."

He said it was "dangerous" to leave such issues to charities alone, and that in the wake of devolution, public service delivery needed to be rethought as a collaboration between local communities, businesses, government and third sector organisations.

"We should have a bigger vision than that - social enterprise has to go alongside a whole panoply of how you invest money in changing society," he said.

"Local movements are incredibly powerful, you have to build collaborative relationships with the people who live there, the government, businesses - movements trump institutions.

He also said he said had doubts about local government payment-by-results contracts.

"It’s not that it can’t work, it’s that there is a tendency, if it’s the only way money is distributed, for the people who need the service most to get it last," he said, adding that greater collaboration between services and the community would also help deal with this problem. 

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