London is one of the richest cities on earth and yet voluntary and community groups are told there’s no money. Go figure. Whole strategies are based on the deceitful premise that the ‘social contract’ has changed (when and by whom unclear) and henceforth we all need to be pragmatic about our co-production. For the most part people either absorb this uncritically or adopt a position of cognitive dissonance – where we know what we’re being told is BS but feel we have to behave otherwise. Often because those telling us this are funders and we are indebted to them.
The logic of the narrative that frames and disciplines the voluntary and community sector arrives externally – from government and funders mostly. The sector rarely acts in a united way, so no surprise that it is acted upon, by people with an agenda.
This blog is based on a few simple provocations
- Exploding the lie that there is no money
- The ‘sector’ mostly follows other people’s agendas, not its own
- Even if there is not one ‘sector’, this isn’t the problem it is made out to be
- Making visible the role of ideology in setting out what is deemed possible
- Let’s talk more about structural oppression rather than intersectionality and protected characteristics
- Volunteering is replacing voluntary action as a fundable proposition
- That a single point of entry to the ‘sector’ (hub) has become the new modus operandi
- That the majority of groups are completely left out of these discussions and funding ‘arrangements’
Proposition: There is no money!?
In fact it is a case that there is money. It just doesn’t trickle down very far. Amidst the deafening silence with which the liquidation of London Voluntary Service Council (in memoriam 1910-2017) leaked out, one of the reasons offered was that there was no funding hence no alternative to abrupt closure. Countless groups are told the same thing every day. Yet London has the most multi-millionaires on the planet.
Proposition: The sector follows other people’s agendas
Who in the VCS asked for the Big Society or that having a new London Hub was of vital importance?
Proposition: just because the VCS is not one ‘sector’ that isn’t a problem
Most of us know the idea of a ‘sector’ doesn’t really stand up but even so there are spheres of civil society that exist outside of the public and private sector for whom this a useful shorthand and who sometimes try to come together as an independent entity. The fact that there isn’t really a single voluntary and or community sector doesn’t mean solidarity and collective action is not possible within our sector(s). But beware the tactic used by consultants, government and funders, to balk at the complexity of civil society, leading them to retreat to models, processes and agendas they can control and are comfortable with.
Proposition: making visible the role of ideology in setting out what is deemed possible
Over the last 40 years inequality has grown. This decade promises to be the most unequal since the Napoleonic wars. The response to this: we need to get better at co-production, commissioning and procurement. The future trajectory of inequality will not be affected by this.
Proposition: let’s talk more about structural oppression
It seems to be OK to talk to government and funders about intersectionality and protected characteristics because they ‘get it’. You can tick boxes and also show an appreciation of multiple identities. But at root social problems are created by political and economic decisions. To be specific, by government choices. London is also city of plutocrats, some of whom are linked to funders. Hence the problem is structural. The way intersectionality and protected characteristics are talked about, in practice, manages to dodge this realisation and ends up being part of the problem.
Proposition: volunteering is replacing voluntary action
At time of austerity free stuff is attractive to policy makers. Volunteers are typically viewed as a free resource, ignoring the fact that support and safe guarding are key. At the Greater London Authority (GLA) there has long been a Team London for volunteers, nothing remotely comparable exists for London’s 120,000 VCS groups. Likewise the host organisation for the London Hub, Greater London Volunteering, was recently awarded in excess of £350,000. GLV has an expertise in supporting volunteering. Voluntary groups not so much.
Proposition: a single point of entry for the sector is the way forward
The GLA have announced they want a single point of entry for London’s VCS. How is that even possible? 120,000+ VCS groups, numerous networks and forums and a single ‘hub’ with maybe 5 staff to be appointed. Rather than having one single ‘hub’ the vision and investment should be for a multitude of hubs. Not the same old top down model. It doesn’t work.
Proposition: the majority of groups are left out of discussions and funding
Isn’t it odd that most of the VCS are small unfunded community groups yet in a sector that prides itself on equality they are almost entirely absent from policy making discussions and funding? The NCVO Almanac demonstrates that at least 70% of the sector is an informal community association – not a charity or anything else, just a small informal group. Given these ‘facts on the ground’ surely we should be aiming to have 7 out of every 10 people leading decision making on the future of the sector. Maybe that would lead to different policy outcomes and infrastructure organisations? Clearly when the VCS comes together those at the table are mostly charities. Whilst issues of gender, ethnicity and even class might be checked the issue of power and control within the sector is not. Community groups are excluded and too many charities don’t even notice, much less act upon it
I’ll end with a story of the borrowed kettle (source: Jokes and their relation to the Unconscious)
Person A borrowed a kettle from person B and after she returned it, was sued by B because the kettle had a big hole in it, which made it unusable
Her defence was: 1st, I never borrowed a kettle from B. 2nd: the kettle had a hole in it already when I got it from her. 3rd: I gave her back the kettle undamaged
Each of the defences is valid in itself but taken together they exclude one another. Person A was treating in isolation what has to be regarded as a connected whole
Kind of what I was trying to say in my blog
By Matt Scott