The 2015 election: NCVO’s Voluntary Sector Manifesto

Like much of the rest of Britain, the years since 2008 have left large parts of the voluntary sector feeling battered and bruised. A tougher-than-ever funding environment and increased demand for services has squeezed even the most resilient organisations, while the campaigning role of charities – who are speaking truth to power more than ever – has been under attack. The heady days of the Big Society, and before that the Third Way, seem long ago. Many in the voluntary sector fret that the absence of a ‘narrative’ for the sector signals a lack of interest in what voluntary organisations can contribute to society and, in turn, the administration taking power in May 2015.

A bigger difference

With a year to go until the next general election, NCVO’s members have told us that they can make a bigger difference to solving the challenges the next administration will face. The proposals in our manifesto, A bigger difference: Realising the potential of voluntary organisations and volunteers (PDF, 1.4MB), are not about NCVO’s members, but the better society that they want to contribute towards: growing an economy that benefits all parts of society; providing opportunity for those furthest from the mainstream; building sustainable public services that meet people’s needs; and enabling people to make more of a difference in their community and to the causes they care about.

Voluntary organisations are increasingly focusing down on impact. That so many are focusing on making a bigger difference to the world around them should be welcome news for anyone thinking about the challenges ahead. But there’s also a realism among voluntary organisations about the constraints faced by the next government. So, the main focus of NCVO’s manifesto reflects our members’ belief that changing how government uses its resources and works with voluntary organisations and the volunteer movement is more important than calls for particular spending programmes or support for the voluntary sector per se.

Ask not what you can do for the voluntary sector…

First, and most important, is our call to make a tangible shift in the focus of government spending towards early intervention – dealing with problems at their source rather than picking up the pieces later on. At the risk of raising expectations, it seems like there’s a real momentum getting behind the focus on early intervention, thanks to the efforts of the Early Action Task Force in particular. The next election is hopefully an opportunity to turn this into an unstoppable force. Early intervention is one of those wonderfully simple ideas that can seem difficult to understand why we don’t do it more. We hope that proposals to set minimum targets for the proportion of spending on early intervention, to set a ‘ten-year test’ for measuring the impact of spending (to encourage long-term decisions), and to establish a loan fund for public bodies that want to establish more early intervention initiatives, will go some way to shifting the way government works.

NCVO Manifesto 2015: Making a bigger difference, realising the potential of voluntary organisations and volunteers

If switching spending to early intervention means that public services will deliver better value for money, we think social value commissioning will do the same. All parties supported the Social Value Act, which enables commissioners to think beyond the narrow confines of a contract to take into account, for example wider social benefits such as employment opportunities for those furthest from the labour market. But it’s still early days for social value: so, our proposals to establish a Centre for Social Value to support commissioners in making use of the Act will, we believe, deliver more joined-up thinking in commissioning and make public spending work harder for local communities.

We’re also proposing that the next government carries out a major review of public service markets, to consider whether they are fit for the future and how voluntary organisations can play a greater role in local services and their local economy. And what better way to play a role in the local economy than by paying a living wage – so we are proposing that organisations delivering public services should be enabled to pay the living wage.

Much of the debate over the period since 2008 has centred on public spending reductions and the tough economic environment. NCVO estimates that in the first year of this parliament alone,  the voluntary sector experienced disproportionate cuts of £1.3bn in their grants and contracts. Recession, redundancy and restructuring have exhausted many organisations. But resilience has also been characteristic – and in many places, volunteers and voluntary organisations have taken on a bigger role to support communities. This is welcome: and we propose to build on this over the next five years. Government can magnify the difference its own support makes through mechanisms such as matched funding or support for volunteering. So, our proposals to simplify the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme, support access to volunteering opportunities, and match donations to local foundations will particularly help the small voluntary organisations at the heart of every local community.

We have one year to influence the political parties…

…but we need to start now if we are going to have any influence. The clear message from voluntary organisations and the volunteer movement is that they want to achieve their potential and make a bigger difference. But the policy challenges of the future require a fundamental rethink of the way government works – and as part of that, the way it works with the voluntary sector. In the year to May 2015, we hope that these proposals will be the basis for that fundamental rethink.

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, leads NCVO's volunteering, policy, research and campaigning work in the UK and internationally. With lead responsibility for shaping the external environment for the voluntary sector, he blogs about the big issues facing voluntary organisations.

8 Responses to The 2015 election: NCVO’s Voluntary Sector Manifesto

  1. As one of the UK’s leading volunteering and social action charities we know the value that active citizens contribute across society. Disabled people should be given the support to have the same opportunities to contribute as everyone else.
    Designing health and social care services that put people and volunteering at their core can have a massive impact, not only on the beneficiaries and volunteers but also on the public purse.
    As Gus O’ Donnell’s recent Wellbeing and Policy Report concluded, we would urge the next government to put wellbeing top of their agenda and promote and recognise volunteering as a proven, cost effective way of addressing loneliness and improving physical and mental health.

  2. All of us involved in the Care & Repair sector (also known as HIAs) support the concept of early intervention – we hope that the impetus behind the Better Care Fund will not be not lost. Used correctly this funding can help relieve the call on both chronic and acute services by those in that third of their lives when they are physically most at risk, but wish to experience a fulfilling, active and independent lifestyle.
    Gus O’Donnell’s report give us a blueprint for recognising wellbeing as the most important deliverable for us all. Let’s hope we adopt the thinking embodied within its pages.

  3. Lindsey Read says:

    As a charity supporting victims of sexual violence, we have always emphasised early intervention, not only in terms of reducing human suffering, but also in effecting large savings further down the line in terms of spending on NHS and Social Care, by reducing the need for these statutory services.

    However I would like to add a caveat in the light of our experience. Unfortunately, in our geographical area, commissioners have chosen to focus on early intervention at the expense of other services. In other words,no longer commissioning services for those at most need – those for whom early intervention has not been available. Whilst early intervention is always the best option, there will always be people in need further down the line, irrespective of their particular issues. Services for these people must be preserved.

  4. Charlotte Ravenscroft Charlotte Ravenscroft says:

    Thanks Lucy, Malachy and Lindsey for your comments!

    Lindsey – I completely agree that government cannot step back from its responsibilities to help those in greatest need – such as victims of sexual violence. Our aspiration is that government spending on early intervention should be seen as a long-term investment, rather than simply an additional (and therefore unaffordable) cost in the short-term.

    Applying a 10 year cost-benefit test to public spending programmes, reviewing public service markets, and giving greater emphasis to social value are ideas in our manifesto that we believe could make a real difference to the way government utilises its resources – and therefore, ultimately, people’s lives and wellbeing.

  5. Jenny says:

    I bet this is the most thoughtful manifesto for the 2015 election. It really sums up the issues facing government and how the voluntary sector can play a part. Particularly like the idea of early intervention.

  6. Simon James says:

    Reflects a discussion about a welsh health board recently, a move of 0.2% of core budget to community care, fine words, but action way too slow to meet the demographic changes and funding crisis, their only hope might be putting resources, both financial and human, into volunteering, community facilities and organisations and the wider sector. Not sure the money men / women are prepared to take the risk not unless we start to measure outcomes for people, as opposed to the bottom line of bucks and beds?

  7. Val Humphreys says:

    The new 3 Rs of austerity are redundancy, recession and restructuring.
    Against this major threat, we are given one R for resilience and another for a Review of public sector markets. It seems to me that we need to think of a few more strategies if we are to confront these challenges. We need to invest in some fundamental strategic rethinking of realistic goals, sensible tactics and smart solutions to a wide range of issues facing this sector. Voluntary agencies have often been noted as pioneers of new ways of working and new approaches to meeting need. We need to mine this tradition as a resource for tackling present demands.
    What if we were to become a more digitally and media savvy, more creative and innovative, a more diverse and colloborative, a more ethically explicit and values led, more informed and learned sector? Would that be a start of a new narrative? Of course, these changes take time, hard work and commitment. But it’s never been an easy ride and this might make for a less bumpy journey later.

    • Karl Wilding Karl Wilding says:

      Val – I think all those changes you talk about are welcome, and much of my own work and that of my colleagues has been about helping the sector to manage change and strengthen its ways of working – on being digitally savvy, for example, look at our contribution to the Marsh Review of Skills and Leadership in our sector, at http://leadingsocial.org.uk/data-informed-social-change/

      I reckon your points here are about how the sector needs to change itself: and as such, I think many of the solutions lie within, so to speak. I dont think going to government is the answer, partly becuase of the time, hard work and commitment needed that you highlight. The manifesto is more about influencing the parts of the system that government can change – such as shifting spending to early intervention, something we cant do ourselves (unless you count our own spending, or the applications to public funding we make). So, I’m agreeing with you: policy change is one of a number of strategies that we need.