"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Saturday, 1 October 2011


What are charities, the "voluntary sector", the "third sector"?

My definition of a charity is an organisation that has a social purpose not already provided by the state. Charities campaign and they provide support. These two aspects of charities are vital. And it is vital that they do these independent of the government. (Hence why the term Non Government Organisation is used for many charities.)

But should a charity provide services?

Support and campaigning are services, but should they provide services that are already (or should be) provided by the state? In my opinion, they should not. If charities provide services how can they continue to provide support for service users? How can they campaign on behalf of service users? They cannot, because they will be campaigning against themselves and supporting service users against themselves. There is a huge conflict of interest that no one seems to have noticed. Once a charity provides a service, it cannot support the people using that service. The only solution is for someone else to create a charity to support service users who are using a service provided by another charity. Madness!

Sadly, some charities seem to have decided that they are more than they should be. At the Labour party conference this week I attended a fringe meeting hosted by two charities, Rethink and Age UK. These charities described the Health and Social Care Bill as an "opportunity". They do not see the Bill as a danger, a Bill that will fragment the NHS. In fact, I got the impression that they regarded the NHS as the "problem", and themselves as the only "solution".

There is very little difference between such charities and the private sector. Indeed, such charities are run as if they are businesses, with high paid executives, plush offices and extensive marketing departments. The only difference between such charities and private sector companies are that the profits in the former are recycled back into the organisation and in the latter profits are distributed to the shareholders as dividends.

There is very little that is "voluntary" about the "voluntary sector". In most charities, the majority (and probably all) of the staff are employed. In some cases I would prefer a private sector company to provide a public service because at least with a private company there is accountability to the shareholders. With a charity the accountability is to the trustees, but who are they? Often no one knows who the trustees are, or how they get to be appointed.

(Not all charities are bad. Some are excellent and campaign for, and provide support for very vulnerable people. Often they do so with very little administrative costs. However, this is not typical of the "third sector", it is filling with organisations that are simply businesses with little or no accountability.)

So when someone talks to you about charities providing public services, unblinker yourself and see them for what they are: non-public, non-accountable private organisations.

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