Richard Caulfield: Parting words to the charity sector

Charities must not be afraid to speak out against government policies that are unpalatable to them, writes our blogger

Richard Caulfield
Richard Caulfield

While thinking of a topic for my final blog before leaving the charity sector, I revisited the recent letter by 11 sector leaders to the Treasury ahead of the Autumn Statement.

When I first read it, I felt concerned about the content and felt that something was missing and the focus was wrong. Having seen the scale of the cuts announced in many areas of the north west recently, the idea of more ‘masterclasses’ for the sector and an expansion of the Commissioning Academy feels a little like fiddling whilst Rome burns.

When revisiting the letter today, in light of the size of cuts we know of, I searched for the words "equality" and "inequality", neither of which were mentioned. Match that with the five mentions of social investment and three of commissioning, and I think we start to see what has been a drift in the thinking of the sector in recent years.

If the sector is to say anything to the Treasury at the moment, surely it has got to register its concern about the inequality that is growing in this country because of government spending cuts. Surely we must mention the poverty caused by the welfare reforms which leave many families making difficult decisions between heating and food.

Surely we have to comment on how many local authorities are not just cutting but having to lose whole services that provide support for those in need at a time of crisis. This will also mean the loss of many effective voluntary organisations working in these areas.

These cuts are brutal, and the effects in many parts are devastating. One local councillor recently told me "We have not just been cut to the bone, we are through to the marrow". I certainly don’t think the sector in that local authority area consider improving access to social investment a priority – or indeed relevant at all.

I know the rationale for what was written in the letter: a belief that government doesn’t want to listen. But sometimes, just sometimes, we have to say things that are unpalatable to them. We have to speak out, not just about the sustainability of our own organisation but of the injustice that we see.

Now, in the run-up to an election, is the time to for us to come together as a sector and agree some core messages to tell all the political parties not just about how we want the sector to be treated, but also about the society we want to create.

Let’s get the agenda back on to social justice and tackling inequality. Let’s make sure that we help give voice to those that are seldom heard. And let’s work to ensure any renewed economic success is shared more equally than ever before, and that it leads to healthier lives for all.

Richard Caulfield is leaving his role as chief executive of Voluntary Sector North West to join the Association of Colleges

This article was originally published on the Third Sector blog

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