Voluntary sector ‘being destroyed’ by relationship with government

The voluntary sector is being undermined by the government push to
increase its involvement in the delivery of public services,
research published this week reveals.

Findings from the first phase of a five-year study, unveiled by
think-tank Centris in London, show that national charities have
become subcontractors of government.

Centris director Barry Knight said: “It is destroying the voluntary
sector in parts. All that is happening is organisations are
becoming subcontractors of government and that will start happening
much more.”

The study identifies three main trends, including a huge growth in
the professionalised voluntary sector due to government contracts
and the adoption of private sector techniques in marketing and
public relations.

It says such organisations have aligned themselves with government,
recruiting professional staff rather than volunteers and making the
“public increasingly suspicious of them”.

“What we have found is that people have no connection with these
organisations and think they are just part of the state,” Knight

He added that the part of the study which concentrated on users of
disability services found that disabled people relied mostly on
family and friends, followed by statutory services and, “way down
the track”, the voluntary sector.

“It is questionable whether the voluntary sector should be getting
involved in the delivery of public services because it is losing
its value and its roots,” Knight added.

Reports from 50 voluntary organisations were inspected and about
700 interviews carried out for the first phase of the research,
which is looking at the state of civil society across the

But Karl Wilding, head of research at the National Council for
Voluntary Organisations, denied that the delivery of public
services was a “threat to civil society”, but rather was helping
“embed its principles within our communities more than ever”.

“The suggestion that an influx of government money into the sector
displaces volunteers is naive and not supported by any evidence,”
he said, adding that much of the voluntary sector remained
“untouched by the hand of government”.

Caroline Abrahams, head of policy at charity NCH – a major provider
of services to children – said: “For us, the big test is what our
service users say and they tell us they think we are on their side.
They certainly do not see us as part of the state.”

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