We all have a role to improve understanding of the true value of the voluntary sector in our society
Having worked with and for charities and social enterprises for over a decade, it has long been a frustration of mine that the social sector is too often misunderstood, unappreciated and undervalued.
Public policy discourse is generally focused on the private sector and the public sector, while the “third sector” is treated as an entirely separate entity; usually as a nice bolt-on to be applauded, but never taken too seriously.
Yet the reality is that the social sector is a major employer and a key catalyst for the country’s recovery and growth post-pandemic, whose impact is both social and economic.
SCVO’s State of the Sector report shows that Scottish charities’ income exceeds £6bn – two thirds of which is earned through service delivery and sales rather than grants and donations – and the sector employs 108,000 people (4% of Scotland’s workforce), creating well-paid, stable jobs in growing sectors critical to our national recovery.
The Bank of England’s Chief Economist and founder of Pro Bono Economics, Andy Haldane, has calculated that that the true contribution of the UK’s social sector is £234bn, or 10% of the country’s GDP.
The COVID-19 pandemic has opened eyes to the reality of the social sector’s critical contribution to society, not least in delivering vital services to support some of our most vulnerable citizens through this most challenging of periods.
Pro Bono Economics has now established the Law Family Commission on Civil Society as an ambitious programme of ground-breaking research into how we can unleash the potential of civil society.
It is chaired by the former UK Cabinet Secretary, Lord Gus O’Donnell, and has brought together 17 highly influential Commissioners from a range of professional backgrounds, including business, politics, public policy, charity, social enterprise and philanthropy.
I truly believe this programme presents a timely opportunity to identify and harness the potential of the public, private and social sectors to work together to achieve their full potential for social good and inclusive growth.
Yet we fully recognise that this is not going to be achieved simply by the commissioners speaking to each other. The success of this programme relies on an ongoing process of engagement with the social sector across the UK.
As a commissioner who is particularly keen to ensure the voices of Scotland and the devolved nations are heard, it is very important to me that Scotland’s thriving, innovative social sector is closely engaged in this conversation
So I am encouraging charities, social enterprises, partners and stakeholders across Scotland to engage with the Call for Evidence launched by the Law Family Commission to share your views, experiences and ideas about how to maximise the impact of civil society.
The Call for Evidence is open until 10th May 2021. While it asks a necessarily wide-ranging series of questions, please do not be put off. If your focus and expertise is in one or two specific areas, please share your knowledge and views on those questions and do not feel you need to provide an answer for every one.
This is only the start of the Commission’s work, and there will be other opportunities to engage during the process.
The Commission has not been set up to produce a single final report at the end of the process, but rather will undertake research and publish papers to support its objective of strengthening and releasing the full potential of civil society on an ongoing basis.
The Law Family Commission is a unique and exciting opportunity to change the narrative on the social sector and build vibrant, impactful partnerships with the public and private sectors to truly deliver on our collective charitable purpose. I hope charities and social enterprises across Scotland will engage with the Commission to help shape its outcomes.
Theresa Shearer is Group CEO of Enable Group, Vice Convener of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), Trustee of Inclusion Europe, a member of the RSE Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission Inclusive Public Service Working Group, and a Commissioner on the Law Family Commission on Civil Society.