Charities' role must be recognised, says Lords committee
Charities are the “eyes, ears and conscience of society”, an influential government body has found.
Solutions must be found to the challenges the sector faces, a House of Lords select committee found, which also said that strong voluntary groups are essential to a strong society.
The committee primarily looked at, and took evidence from, the sector in England and Wales.
However, key Scottish figures, including Martin Sime from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and David Robb, chief executive of Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, also spoke to it.
The Lords committee found that charities already operate in a challenging financial climate, and now Brexit is expected to leave a £200 million funding gap.
Yet they continue to fulfil vital roles in our society: delivering services, supporting volunteering, advocating to shape laws and policies, as well as strengthening community cohesion.
The committee published a report called Stronger Charities For A Stronger Society.
It concludes that there are real fears the Westminster government is attempting to inhibit charities in how they advocate for the people they represent.
Therefore, charities’ role as a “non-partisan watchdog of government activities” is under threat.
It warned against any moves to restrict restrict charities’ “vital” campaigning and advocacy roles.
A major problem is funding, with charities facing restrictions in public finance and barriers to investment.
Financial pressures can retard innovation, the committee found.
Overall, it said, it is vital that the UK government recognises the contribution made by the voluntary sector
It was agreed that charities need more support in terms of funding which recognises that their core costs must be met, and that grants, as distinct from loans or contracts, play a vital role
Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities, Baroness Pitkeathley, said “Charities are the lifeblood of society. They play a fundamental role in our civil life and do so despite facing a multitude of challenges. Yet for them to continue to flourish, it is clear that they must be supported and promoted.
“We found that charities lead the way with innovation, but that this is at risk of being stifled by the ‘contract culture’. And while advocacy is a sign of a healthy democracy, and is a central part of charities’ role, this role has been threatened by Government.
“We hope that charities will be encouraged by this report; that the Government will respect their role; and that in addition it will value the connections charities have with all sections of society, and encourage the vital scrutiny they provide.”
SCVO chief executive Sime said: “This report into charities in England and Wales makes some helpful recommendations which will improve sector relations with the UK government.
“It’s also an interesting if rather long-winded summary of where debate about our sector has got to in London”.