The relationship between charities and the public sector should be reset to become “a partnership of equals”, a senior Labour MP has said.
Rachel Reeves, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, was speaking yesterday at the launch of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, hosted by Pro Bono Economics. The commission will be conducting research on various aspects of civil society for two years, with the aim of helping it achieve its “full potential”.
Reeves also said that Labour believes that the charity sector needs a bail-out to support it through the pandemic, and called for the abolition of the Lobbying Act.
Financial bail-out is ‘just the start’
Reeves said that Labour believes the country is in the middle of a “social recession” as well as an economic one, and that it wants to respond by being “an ally for civil society”.
She also addressed the funding crisis charities are facing, calling it an “emergency” that cannot be ignored.
Reeves said: “The collapse in fundraising, and insufficient financial support for the sector from government, tragically means viable charities and community organisations risk going to the wall at the time when demand is highest.
"That is why Labour thinks that the sector needs a financial bail-out, but this is just the start.
“We believe we need to reset the relationship between the civil society sector and the public sector so that it is a partnership of equals. Labour wants charities and community organisations to play their full role in changing society.”
Shadow charities minister Rachel Maskell also called for a second support package for the charity sector last month, ahead of the second lockdown.
Reeves said that charities are “often overlooked and possibly undervalued” in the political arena.
She said: “For too long, the impression is that the civil society sector is there to either compensate for market failure or to plug holes in the limitations of state. It is often defined more against both the private and public sectors in policy terms rather than on its merits.”
On the current crisis, Reeves added: “The challenge of rebuilding our society post-Covid will fail without the vital participation of civil society. We need a new era of collaboration and co-production for the common good.
“The sector must be around the decision-making tables drawing on your vast experience to help shape the future.”
Guarding the independence of charities
Reeves also called for charities to be able to “speak truth to power” and for the abolition of the Lobbying Act, which requires some charities to register with the Electoral Commission and report on their campaigning.
Reeves said: “Democracy is deeper than sporadic elections, it is about what happens in between with citizens’ voice, rights and power. That requires guarding the independence and voice of civil society and is why measures in the Lobbying Act which mutes so many, really must go.
“Your voice is your most important asset and the whole country benefits when voluntary organisations and charities can speak truth to power.”
This comes a few days after Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission and a Tory peer, called for charities to “leave party politics and the culture wars” out of charity, in a newspaper article that was much criticised by charity leaders.