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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Funding the voluntary sector is key to a wellbeing recovery

This opinion piece is over 2 years old

Susan Smith says building a wellbeing economy means putting money into in the voluntary organisations that help us when we need it most

A friend of mine writes prize-winning poetry. She first started writing after attending workshops run by a charity she had turned to for help – she was taught techniques and given the space to express herself and the results are beautiful. Her self-esteem soared alongside her sense of wellbeing.

Most of us will turn to charity or voluntary groups at some point in our lives. It might be to meet our basic needs for food or shelter, to help us feel safe with health advice and counselling, or to build relationships through mother-and-baby groups, youth groups or lunch-clubs for the elderly. We are very lucky in Scotland to have a huge network of voluntary organisations and charities that boost our self-esteem and put our wellbeing first. Now more than ever, we need to protect that.

If wellbeing is to be central to recovery then the voluntary sector cannot continue to be an after-thought. Major cuts to #NeverMoreNeeded voluntary sector services, like we're seeing in Glasgow this week

The voluntary sector isn’t the only part of society focussed on wellbeing though – we have the NHS, our education system and legal structures that keep us safe. Building a wellbeing economy is a 21st century buzz phrase that’s about moving away from measuring success based on economic growth (Gross Domestic Product) to measures that include reducing inequality, our health and happiness levels, our access to green and blue spaces, and our satisfaction with our housing. The Scottish Government put wellbeing at the core of its purpose and central to its National Performance Framework in 2018.

Along came Covid and what was theoretical has suddenly became very real. On 23 March lockdown was announced and inequality, our health and happiness, our access to green and blue space, and our satisfaction with our housing became immediate and pressing concerns. That's why lots of us – including the Scottish Government Advisory Group on Economic Recovery (AGER) – are talking about a wellbeing recovery.

This is great news. Lots of people in the voluntary sector are very excited about playing their part in creating a nation of healthy and happy Scots (read my piece on Community Wealth Building, September TFN, p42). But are they ready to put themselves out of business at the same time – an aim Nathan Sparling of HIV Scotland reminded us we should keep in sight in his #NeverMoreNeeded opinion piece.

Disruption is another 21st century buzzword to suggest something that leads to major innovations and changes to the way we live – like the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Covid has created disruption in the negative sense but if it is also to create positive disruption then we will have to accept prolonged uncertainty. Some things, like working from home, will be comfortable and others, like the closure of high-street stores and people losing their jobs, will be very uncomfortable.

What I want to see happen though is people redeployed from sole money-making ventures like high-street stores into high-demand wellbeing areas like social care. But, that requires a major change in our society. Our policy makers need to be willing to move away from age-old practices and behaviours that focus on the few with the biggest bank accounts to new systems that favour the rest of society. Are they ready to do that?

The Scottish Government’s new programme for government has just been announced with the promise of a recovery that is stronger, fairer and more sustainable. The government’s AGER report focus on jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs leaves room for doubt though – what about taxation, system change and public attitudes?

If wellbeing is to be central to recovery then the voluntary sector cannot continue to be the after-thought it currently is. Major cuts to #NeverMoreNeeded voluntary sector services,like we're seeing in Glasgow this week, need to be rethought. Charities and voluntary organisations are in direct contact with people at the times of their lives when their wellbeing is most at risk.

The sector has huge experience in boosting wellbeing from running employability programmes to writing poetry. At a time when everyone’s wellbeing is at a low ebb investing in the voluntary sector to support people when they are most vulnerable is about saving money and lives. If this is done properly, over longer periods, then maybe some voluntary organisations will, happily, put themselves out of business.

Susan Smith is SCVO’s editor of news services. Find out more about #NeverMoreNeeded at

Susan Smith will chair the Building Scotland’s Wellbeing Economy webinar on 15 September with minister for public finance and migration Ben Macpherson, Katherine Trebeck, advocacy and influencing lead and the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, and Anna Fowlie, chief executive of the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations.



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