Independence Under Threat: The Voluntary Sector in 2013

Independence Under Threat: The Voluntary Sector in 2013
Independence Panel
July 2013

Foreword from Sir Roger Singleton


This is the second of four annual assessments of the state of independence that the Panel expects to make over the five years of its work. 


We have gathered evidence from a wide range of organisations and examined many sources over the last year, as well as drawing on our own direct knowledge and expertise. I would like to thank everyone who engaged with us, particularly those who participated in our two evidence gathering sessions.


We conclude that the sector as we know it is at risk because its necessary independence is under threat, and that that threat is greatest for organisations working with disadvantaged people. This should concern everyone who values the role of the voluntary sector in our society.


Voluntary organisations enjoy such widespread support because they provide opportunities for intervention and action which are independent and distinctive. This is not just through the personalised help they give, or the way in which they find new approaches and solutions to longstanding problems. It is also because they can speak forcefully and without fear on behalf of unpopular causes and people. This is especially important when engagement in mainstream politics is declining. These independent qualities help make charities and other voluntary bodies a lifeline for those facing crises in their lives, and who sometimes have no other forms of support.


We know the Government is developing new proposals to support the voluntary sector, for example through social finance. But the evidence is that it is not doing enough to recognise or safeguard the sector’s independence. It is particularly surprising to see direct attacks by Government and others on the freedom of expression of voluntary bodies working with the state. Self-censorship by voluntary bodies is also a problem because some fear losing vital and increasingly scarce state funding if they challenge the status quo. There is widespread non-compliance by central and local government with measures to protect independence. 


It’s time to decide and take action on what is necessary to maintain and support the voluntary sector in today’s world and sustain a diverse and tolerant society. Without this, we may see the voice of the vulnerable and marginalised being silenced, democracy being eroded and society impoverished.


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