Letter: Charities: dangers of separating campaigning from providing services

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Independent is right to regard the report produced by the Centre for Research and Innovation in Social Policy and Practice as posing a considerable threat to charities in Britain (leading article, 'Uncharitable proposals from the state', 13 October). The 'fingerprints of government' are all over it. But while the report suggests changes that pose a massive threat to the whole voluntary sector, the trend itself is not new; the Government has already moved a considerable way towards creating a 'contract culture'.

The idea of separating charitable work from 'campaigning' is itself a pernicious misreading of the role of the voluntary sector. It would be bad in principle and dangerous in practice. The creation of the contract culture has already led to a situation where too many charitable and voluntary groups are dependent on government money for their survival. In the last few years we have seen too many signs that ministers want to control and direct the voluntary sector.

In many cases, a voluntary organisation or charity is uniquely placed to comment on public and social policy because of the experience gained through providing a service. Examples are legion, but I would highlight three from my own experience.

Citizens Advice Bureaux see enormous numbers of people who come to them for advice because they are independent and staffed by dedicated volunteers. That gives them unique access to people with problems whose experience is rightly publicised under the second objective of the service, to inform public policy.

Disabled people, particularly those with a specific form of disability that affects small numbers of people, need vocal advocates as their needs are so often overlooked. A charity whose very existence is focused on their needs is best able to provide a service and to campaign on their behalf.

Carers and victims are just two groups whose needs are easily overlooked. Those who provide a service for them in the voluntary sector should not be prevented from campaigning on their behalf and highlighting their needs.

Labour's plea is that the Government recognises that, while campaigning from the voluntary sector will be uncomfortable when it focuses on the shortcomings of the approach of government, it should be welcomed as part of the price of living in a democracy and not stifled by the bureacruacy on grounds of cost-cutting.

Yours sincerely,

ALUN MICHAEL

MP for Cardiff South

and Penarth (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

13 October

The writer is opposition spokesman on home affairs.

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