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I had to quit as a charity boss to protest against terrible government policies | John Tizard

I had to quit as a charity boss to protest against terrible government policies | John Tizard

12.9.2019

I had to quit as a charity boss to protest against terrible government policies | John Tizard

Charities should not be agents of the state – and this politically manic autumn is no time to be timid, whatever the cost

Earlier this summer, I decided to stand down as chair of the National Association of Voluntary and Community Action (Navca). I felt I could no longer stay in a post where I could not speak openly about the hardship being inflicted across the country. I was elected to the post last autumn by members of Navca, which supports thousands of local charities and communities and provides a vital voice for local groups, and had been visiting and talking to members since the start of 2019. I was consistently impressed by the commitment and impact of these organisations. However, I also became more convinced than ever of the need for the sector to be more strident in promoting social justice and equality, and challenging barriers to equality, fairness and opportunity. The current state of our country, with the inequality, injustices and hardships created by government policy and structural problems, requires bold political interventions. It was not an easy decision, but standing down means I can campaign and intervene on these issues in ways that would have been more difficult had I remained. I also wanted to avoid detracting from Navca’s core role of supporting and representing its members. That said, I believe that charities have to be bold and ready to challenge, oppose and argue for changes in policy. The UK faces several crises, including Brexit, the climate emergency, homelessness, severely underfunded public services, increasing in-work poverty, universal credit and other so-called “welfare reforms”, and rising inequality. There is growing reliance on charity provision such as food banks. Philip Alston’s UN report found that despite the UK being the world’s fifth-largest economy, one-fifth of its population – 14 million people – live in poverty. We are also seeing a rise in xenophobia and growing mistrust in our political system, with a concurrent rise in populism and false political pledges. For some time, I have felt that too many charities, though not all, have been too timid about challenging the government and addressing the underlying causes of social injustice. Too few have challenged the folly of Brexit, especially a no-deal Brexit. If the leaked Yellowhammer report was not enough to trigger a response from the voluntary sector, what will be? Some trustees and charity staff have been intimidated by the government’s 2014 Lobbying Act, which imposed restrictions on non-government bodies, and by gagging clauses in funding agreements and contracts. It was recently revealed that Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland signed gagging clauses to prevent them bringing the Department for Work and Pensions “unfairly into disrepute” when they agreed to £51m contracts to provide advice to universal credit claimants. Some charities have tried to act inside the system and play along with the government. Some have been too worried about upsetting stakeholders. Some simply do not see it as their role, let alone their duty, to speak out. And some, frankly, appear to have sought an easier life. Others have focused on internal or organisational issues, rather than the wider public policy agenda. Given the seriousness of the situation, I believe it is time for charities, voluntary bodies and wider civil organisations, including national bodies, to move their campaigning up several gears. This is not the moment to be timid. Much social change, such as ending slavery and child labour, has come about because of social action and strong charity campaigning. There are many smaller, local examples too. Charities have created many services that later became core public services, such as children’s centres that became Sure Start centres. Charities have previously been able to provide services to vulnerable people while also campaigning for policy changes. It should be the same today, but it’s something too many trustees and executives appear to have forgotten or chosen to ignore. There is no merit in being myopic, hesitant or stubborn. Charities and voluntary bodies cannot stay silent. To be silent is to be complicit. Charities are being devalued by this government. Their role as advocates is being pushed aside or seriously constrained. This is wrong. Charities should push back, not allow themselves to become controlled agents of the state. They must be ready to confront the underlying structural causes of social injustice, inequality, and the climate emergency. This includes challenging politicians, but without being partisan. It requires promoting alternative policies and making the case for progressive taxation and the redistribution of wealth, income and power. And it should be about avoiding special-interest pleading at the expense of others. In this politically manic autumn, I am certainly going to be active. I will not be silent and neither should the charity sector. National organisations like NCVO and Navca should not keep their heads down. They should be ready to step up and offer hope, answers, and real leadership. Topics Read more: The Guardian

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