The government has thrown the “loose change at the bottom of the pocket” at the charity sector rather than offering proper funding to deal with the pandemic, according to the shadow charities minister.
Speaking yesterday at a virtual event organised by the think tank NPC called What role for charities in ‘Starmerism’?, Rachael Maskell, the Labour and Co-operative MP for York Central, accused the government of offering too little financial support to charities affected by the crisis, and of doing it too slowly.
She also said there was a “servant-master” relationship between charities and the Conservative government and hinted that Labour might consider returning the Office for Civil Society to the Cabinet Office if it came to power again.
Maskell told delegates: “I believe the government has been incredibly slow in getting money out and there has been far too little of it – it really seems like the loose change at the bottom of the pocket has been thrown to the sector, rather than giving it the proper bailout support that it’s going to need.”
She said it was vital that charities were sustained and supported to play a key role in the recovery from the coronavirus crisis, and that if Labour were in government “we’d see a very different response”.
The government has been criticised by sector figures for size of the £750m support package it offered to charities during the pandemic, as well as the length of time it took to reach frontline organisations.
Maskell also criticised the 2016 decision by a Conservative government to move the Office for Civil Society from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, saying the government had “outsourced [the OCS] somewhere into a corner of government”.
She said: “We want to see the voluntary sector front and centre, and I think Labour showed its efforts well by putting it in the Cabinet Office, where I think it rightly belongs.”
She also said it was important for the charities minister to be a member of the House of Commons rather than the House of Lords, where the current minister, Baroness Barran, was drawn from.
“The problem as I see it is that we have a relationship at the moment of servant-master, where the state is master and servant is organisations which often work to contracts,” said Maskell.
“Within that relationship, they haven't dared bite the hand that feeds them.”
She said it was not “a happy, honest or true relationship” where robust conversations and critiques could happen.
“That has to change,” she said. “To see co-production and charities sitting at the decision-making table, to see the voluntary sector at the heart of that, it would change how government and local government works, and much else across civil society.”
Maskell added: “As shadow minister, I’m not here to tell the sector how to do its business, what it is about and what it should be saying – the sector is articulate and more than capable of doing that itself.
“But the sector has got to get the organisation right and that means having the voices in the right places.”
She also said it was important for Labour to be led by the experience of the sector, which was best placed to reach communities and address the issues of the day, and that as charities minister, she would have weekly surgeries with the sector to connect with charities and take forward an agenda.