Opinion: Third Voice - Inequality, not contract culture, is the real problem

Krishna Sarda, chief executive, Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations

The latest findings on the so-called contract culture and its impact on small voluntary organisations (Third Sector, 8 February) fail to reflect the real extent of the wider social problems affecting the nation's minority ethnic voluntary sector and the communities it serves.

Britain's voluntary sector has long been an uneven playing field on which mainstream and minority ethnic organisations alike are forced to compete for scarce resources. Success has mostly been the domain of large mainstream organisations with skilled workforces and considerable corporate capabilities.

Out of the 153,000 general charities in the country, those with incomes above £10m (0.2 per cent) account for almost 40 per cent of the sector's income. Membership of this charity super-league remains the preserve of mainstream white-led organisations - a veritable old boys' network where it is not what you know that matters, but who you know.

In contrast, their minority ethnic counterparts preside over an impoverished realm inhabited by cash-strapped local service providers struggling to meet the needs of the country's most deprived communities. The minority ethnic sector has a much larger proportion of small grass-roots community groups. Long neglected by a mainstream voluntary sector that has focused on the needs of the general population, these groups respond to the concerns of their marginalised communities and often embrace unpopular causes.

The lack of skills and resources afforded to these 'third division' charities is not surprising, given that 70 per cent of minority ethnic individuals still live in the 88 most deprived local authority districts.

The contract culture only exacerbates an unsatisfactory situation. Every day we hear reports from our networks of community groups facing closure.

Unable to operate in an increasingly resource and skills-intensive environment, they lose out to their better-equipped competitors. Most of these organisations provide support to vulnerable individuals. They offer culturally sensitive services and lend a voice to groups nobody else speaks for. But their causes do not attract funding.

It is not the sector's new contract culture that is the problem, but the deep-seated culture of inequality and disadvantage still pervading British society.

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