‘This Strategy sets out how government will work with and for civil society in the long-term to create a country that works for everyone’.
The current Government published this strategy on the 9th August 2018. It is a large document, a big strategic picture is delivered, and there is little that can be critiqued in mere observational mode.
The difference will be measured in the coming years of political turbulence, and how the new, adjusted and revitalised civil society arrangements in the document will have been implemented, or abandoned.
Below, we publish in full the section on The Social Sector. The full document is available above to view, print or download (.pdf).
3. THE SOCIAL SECTOR: supporting charities and social enterprises
Published 9 August 2018
Charities and social enterprises － ‘the social sector’ － are the core of civil society. A healthy, independent, and engaged civil society is a hallmark of a thriving democracy. A robust sector is a sign of a confident democracy, which offers many ways in which citizens’ views and concerns can be amplified. This country has a long tradition of philanthropic organisations, both small and large, set up independently of government to respond to the challenges of society. A poignant example is civil society’s role with regards to combating threats to democracy, ensuring that broad debate and political campaigning continue to thrive, online as well as offline. It is essential that these organisations can access the necessary support to adapt to meet the challenges of the future.
Throughout this Strategy there are proposals that will benefit social sector organisations. For instance, in Chapter 1 we talk about citizens, including young people, in supporting society. In Chapter 2 we describe place-based investment and empowerment. Chapter 4 describes a range of benefits that business, the finance sector and new technology can bring to civil society. In Chapter 5 we explain plans to reform commissioning in favour of charities and social enterprises.
There remains a range of issues concerning the role and management of social sector organisations themselves, which are dealt with in this chapter, namely the sector’s voice, its funding, its leadership, support, regulation, and its digital capability.
Significant steps are already being taken from within the social sector to address these issues. The government cannot and should not ‘lead’ or organise civil society. But the government has a clear role to play, including where only the government can act, or where government intervention has the potential to offer significant additional value.
In particular the government is keen to work alongside the social sector to realise a future in which organisations are able to adapt and thrive, strengthen public trust and find new ways to resource and deliver their missions. This includes all in the sector feeling that their voice is respected in policy debates, where there is strong support available and ongoing and effective investment in leadership and governance. Finally, the government wants charities and social enterprises to be able to employ strong digital skills to deliver social good.
Mission 6: the voice of civil society
The rules on campaigning
Civil society has a long and proud tradition of campaigning for change and providing voice for the disempowered and disadvantaged in society. Civil society organisations have successfully campaigned for changes in the law and national policy, and at local level supporting access to services and challenging public sector organisations to improve.
Charity law enables charities to undertake campaigning, including political activity, to support the delivery of their charitable purposes. Charity law prohibits charities from supporting a political party or candidate. It is also right that we have a longstanding framework under Electoral Law to provide transparency of third party campaigning in the period before an election. This is necessary to ensure that an election outcome cannot be unduly influenced through excessive spending.
Some civil society organisations believe that the space for campaigning and advocacy has closed in recent years, creating a ‘chilling effect’ on civil society campaigning and advocacy.1
Evidence from the engagement exercise is that the government should improve its engagement with civil society, consult charities, and community groups, consider what is said and be transparent about decision-making, include diverse civil society voices in policy development, and that beneficiaries especially young people should be engaged and involved in policy making in a meaningful way. One organisation of many stressed during the engagement exercise that charities “play a vital role in shining a light on key issues and the government should support and champion them in doing this”.
The government is ambitious to play a key role internationally in standing up for free speech and a vibrant civil society.
Hearing from civil society
The government is determined that charities and social enterprises should be fully confident in their right to speak in public debates, and to have a strong campaigning and advocacy role. It is right that we have government grant standards which prevent taxpayers’ money being spent on political campaigning or lobbying. However, simply being in receipt of taxpayers’ money should not inhibit charities from making their voices heard on matters of policy or practice.
The government is committed to embedding open policy making across departments － giving civil society significant opportunities to achieve policy change － and is currently developing a commitment to this as part of the UK’s next National Action Plan for Open Government.2
The government also recognises that there is a job to do to reach a collective approach across Whitehall in the way that we work with and for civil society. We are therefore keen to get our internal workings in order to ensure that we effectively join up at crucial stages of policy development to reflect the voice of the sector and to obtain valuable and early insight into how our policies are likely to impact communities and the sector. As mentioned in other chapters, strong partnership working with the sector is key to effectively deliver policies that tackle a number of issues faced by communities and to strengthen the resilience of the sector.
The government will renew its commitment to the principles of the Compact. The Compact is a document that sets out a series of principles and commitments governing the relationship between the social sector and the government. It was last published in 2010.3
The government will convene a cross-government group to work with civil society to establish the principles of effective engagement in the policy-making process, learning from the examples of good practice that already exist. This includes a focus on the effective engagement of young people (see ‘Young people and national policy design’.
The government will work with civil society, the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission to explore what other non-legislative steps could strengthen civil society’s confidence in its campaigning and advocacy role.4 For example, the Electoral Commission has already started work on improving its third party campaigning guidance for civil society organisations.
Victoria Atkins MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability says:
Knowing the issues that affect the most vulnerable in our society is the first step towards finding solutions and bringing justice to a community. Charities and the social sector play a vital role in representing people who are unable to advocate for themselves to ensure that the right policies and programmes are in place to protect the most marginalised in our society.
Imagine living with an aggressive partner － coerced and violently attacked in your own home, sometimes for decades – and too scared to speak out for fear of retribution. Or being trafficked from another country and not being able to make or exercise any choices free from duress, pressure or undue influence in order to protect oneself from abuse, neglect and exploitation. The reality is that there are many people whose individual circumstances preclude them from being able to take part fully in important decisions or even discussions that they themselves are the subject of.
In my previous career as a criminal barrister I specialised in prosecuting serious organised crime so I saw how law abiding people could be exploited by criminal gangs. As Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, it is my responsibility to ensure the Home Office is taking the best possible action to protect the most vulnerable and prevent exploitation and criminality.
We frequently rely on the charity sector often working in partnership with the police to flag issues that we need to be aware of and we work in partnership with them to decide on the best options going forward. We are committed to introduce a landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to further transform the response to these heinous crimes. We have also recently published a Serious Violence Strategy which sets out the government’s response to serious violence and recent increases in knife crime, gun crime and homicide. The strategy focuses on early intervention and prevention which can help catch young people before they go down the wrong path into situations where they are exploited frequently as drug runners and through threat and violence to prop up criminal networks.
Delivery of the Modern Slavery Act relies on our social sector partners working alongside charities to ensure that supply chains and other situations where bonded labour or other forms of exploitation may be involved are identified and dealt with. We work closely with a wide range of civil society organisations, including specialist victim support services, to support delivery of our work. Freeing the nation from the cruel acts of modern slavery and other forms of exploitation remains a priority for the Home Office and the UK government and it is only by working in partnership that we can achieve our aims.