Bishop of Derby speaks of unique contribution of the voluntary sector to society

“We do not look just to our neighbours but to strangers. We are not just interested in economic viability but in what is morally right. That is where the energy of the charity sector comes from, and why there is that great British tradition we have heard of—not because it is economically efficient but because it is morally right” – Bishop of Derby, 26.6.14

On 26th June 2014, the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, took part in Baroness Scott of Needham Market’s take note debate on the role played by the voluntary and charitable sectors. He spoke of the distinctive nature of the voluntary and charitable sectors, how they can learn from the world of business but must not simply become businesses, and how they must be afforded the freedom and flexibility to deliver their own unique contribution to communities.

Bishop of Derby

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness and her party for securing this debate. We talk in a context in which certainly many of the charities and voluntary and faith groups that I am involved with are in crisis, with rising demand and costs and reduced funding. That context is the ending of the welfare state. I remind the House that when the welfare state was conceived, Sidney and Beatrice Webb saw it as having three charity and voluntary work purposes: to meet basic needs, to bring people into association with each other, and to create partnership and participation. Of course, the welfare state became totally focused on meeting basic needs rather than on the richer political ecology of dignifying people, associating with them and bringing them into partnership. Many of us in the charitable and voluntary sector have got drawn into that game of meeting basic needs through projects.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said that there has perhaps been a blurring of roles. I will look at that briefly, because it might open up some possibilities for government, the statutory sector and the voluntary and charitable sector. From my experience of working in the charitable and voluntary sector, one basic problem that has caused a blurring of roles is the relentless, remorseless enforcement of the business model, right across the board. Of course charities needed a business model—we can all find caricatures of charities that were a synonym for inefficiency and muddle. However, that model has been so relentless and monochrome that it has blurred the boundaries and undermined where the energies of the charitable and voluntary sector ought to be, because of all the compliance. I hope noble Lords will not misunderstand me; I am not saying that we do not need the standards of business, but that we need more space and flexibility than the model allows us to have.

It is the same in this new post-welfare state world. In the voluntary and charitable sector we try to work with the statutory sector, for instance. That sector came out of a tradition of public service, where you treat people as citizens and neighbours. However, the people I try to work with are obsessed with targets and delivery of plans, and, again, they lack the spaciousness and flexibility to deal with what is on the ground because they are trapped in a very narrow business model. That makes it difficult for us to create the synergy and partnerships that a post-welfare state needs. We ourselves—the charitable and voluntary sector—have bought into that, and have run our projects and got our grants on the back of the welfare state, operating in that way as efficient businesses.

I remind noble Lords of what the charitable and voluntary sector can bring, which needs a certain freedom, allowing for basic business efficiency. I have the privilege of being a trustee of Christian Aid. Following the Webbs, we meet basic needs with local intelligence, because we are alongside people on the ground. We dignify people as people, not as clients or customers, and draw them into partnership and participation. However, the great thing about the faith is a faith in people that is not limited by economic efficiency. There is a desire to take risks for the sake of people beyond the economically efficient.

We do not look just to our neighbours but to strangers. We are not just interested in economic viability but in what is morally right. That is where the energy of the charity sector comes from, and why there is that great British tradition we have heard of—not because it is economically efficient but because it is morally right. When 150,000 of us from Christian Aid knock on doors over one week each year, we do not present people with a business plan to sign up to. We open their hearts and hopes for a better world and a better partnership with those who are less well off. We need space and permission to deliver that, and not to be crushed by compliance to a foreign model.

During the winter the cathedral in Derby, where I work, has had to give a lot of time and energy to making our space available for homeless people to sleep in the building overnight. That is not very economically efficient, or easy for us to manage. But people on the streets who are homeless are in desperate need, and we have to find a way of doing it.

I have been involved in the work on the Modern Slavery Bill, and I have come across an amazing Roman Catholic organisation called Rahab, which works here in Westminster and in Kensington, where there is the largest off-street sex market in the country. The Roman Catholic sisters provide care, support, hope and partnership with the most vulnerable. They work in partnership with the Metropolitan Police and with the EU, where they get funding—and they bring something unique and precious that those agencies cannot provide. The statutory authority and the police cannot provide it, and neither can the EU. We need that kind of partnership.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is on the Front Bench, because he and I often debate such issues, and he has a sure touch for understanding where people like me are coming from. I ask him: what is the role of government, of course in ensuring good practice and business standards, but also in trying to give the voluntary and charitable sector the freedom and flexibility to make our particular contributions? That is the germ of a new political ecology, a new inclusivity, a new appeal to hearts and hopes as well as to economic efficiency, and a new localism that people will buy into. I think that that is in the Government’s interests, and I would love the Minister to advise us how they can encourage that, and bless it in some way.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: …The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby talks about the end of the welfare state, but I simply do not recognise that concept. Indeed, in some ways the welfare state is expanding. Health reform in the United States is becoming embedded, and I suspect that that will not be reformed. The biggest democracy that has resisted that element of the welfare state is now embedding it. However, we recognise that the welfare state, if simply left, would expand to crowd out all other elements of public expenditure, and would then crowd out the private aspect of the economy as well…15

The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, asked about the JustGiving report, to which I trust the Government will respond in good time. Payroll giving has developed a good deal. I am well aware from one or two members of my family who work in the City that payroll giving has spread across the City. It is a useful contribution from those who can afford to pay. We all also need to focus on philanthropy in our unequal society. That is the sort of thing that I hope archbishops and bishops will be saying loud and clear. When I think of those within the community I particularly recall the contribution that the Sainsbury family has made in all sorts of ways to medical research, the University of East Anglia, the National Portrait Gallery, et cetera, with the money it inherited. I regret that we have not seen from the City and the financial sector as much in the way of philanthropy from those who have been lucky and successful enough to give back to society what they have gained economically. I hope that we will hear from others on that theme.

A large number of other issues were raised. In terms of campaigning and advocacy, there should be a natural tension between society, the voluntary sector and the state. That is unavoidable. The last thing we would like is a voluntary sector that always said the state was good. I grew up in the Church of England, and it seemed to me that it was far too close to the powers that be. As a boy I would sing:

“The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate”—

not something that I assume the Church of England sets as a hymn very often these days. Thankfully, Churches now see themselves as unavoidably criticising the status quo. Voluntary organisations, of course, should be doing advocacy and campaigning. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that I am not sure that I do see a clear difference between campaigning and advocacy.


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