Voluntary action: a way forward A policy framework for the common good - NOT

So civil society exists to prevent the growth of too large a state? We don't know where to start in critiquing this analysis . . . a shameless apologia for 30 years of growing inequality, and incorporation of civil society as a fig-leaf to veil destruction of the concept of public service and welfare state. But read on, those with tough stomachs.

Voluntaryaction: a way forward A policy framework for the common good

ProfessorSir Stuart Etherington



This reportsets out some ideas about how the growth of voluntary associations can beencouraged. The report is based on a fundamental belief that associationalbehaviour is generally a force for good. Associations are vehicles for trustand giving. They create community capacity. People and communities should begiven as much control as possible as well as the assets that they require.Civil society, both through the services it can provide and through civicvoice, is a bulwark against an overweening state. The 2016 referendum on EUmembership revealed many things about the United Kingdom, not least a profoundsense of disconnection between increasingly disempowered communities anddecision makers. The national debt is almost £2 trillion and rising. Demographicswill increase the demand on already fully stretched services. Raising taxes bythe amount needed to fill the yawning gap would lead to a flight of companiesand the more wealthy; indeed, the tax take may fall. The answer surely has tobe a renaissance of personal responsibility. We should be in no doubt about thesize of that change. Crudely put, civil society has to double in size or more.Clearly in the short term this is impossible, but across several decades thereis potential to do so. The issue is not, as it has been in the past, a binaryone: more or less state funding versus more or less personal funding. It is amove towards something new: a shared role, with the state and citizens sharingthe burdens of civilised provisions for those of us who need it. The whole maythus become much greater than the parts. This, coupled with the innovationrequired as demand for services rises and the willingness of the public to payvia the tax system falls, makes voluntary action and civil association of growingimportance. Why? Because civil association builds connections and creates asense of belonging. It enables the sharing of problems and the development ofjoint solutions as well as more civic engagement in democracy and publicpolicy. It connects those with power to those without, and, importantly, buildstrust in an increasingly untrustworthy world. This report is structured aroundthree themes, all of which set out ideas: some strategic and some tactical.They will, I hope, provide some stimulus for policy makers and for the widerdebate on the future of civil society being considered by Julia Unwin in herlonger-term review, which will report in 2019.

Sir Stuart proposesthat the government use dormant assets to stimulate philanthropy, and permanentlyendow local charitable foundations. This new capital fund would provide alasting basis for fuelling community action by massively increasing the assetsand investment income of local charitable foundations, which could grant fundlocal projects. Sir Stuart also proposes using dormant assets to givecommunities the resources they need to take over local buildings or assets ofcommunity interest.

Other recommendations include:

§ Undertake a rootand branch review of the social-investment industry so that it works better tosupport the charities and voluntary organisations that it was intended to makemore sustainable

§ Futureproof andsimplify the complex legal and regulatory framework for organisations thatexist to benefit the public (charities, social enterprises and mutual), to takeinto account the numerous legal forms that are now available and to reduce thebureaucracy and inflexibility many now suffer from

§ The governmentshould give a kick-start to volunteering, particularly for those who volunteeras charity trustees, by renewing its support for statutory time-off forvolunteering

Sir StuartEtherington commented:

“The issue is nolonger about more or less state funding, versus more or less charitable givingor volunteering. It is a move towards something new: a society where the stateand its citizens share the responsibility for supporting those who need it.

“We cannot simplyrely on existing ways of doing things. The answer surely has to be arenaissance of personal responsibility and we should be in no doubt about thesize of that change.

“Crudely put, civilsociety has to double in size or more. Clearly, in the short term this isimpossible, but across several decades there is potential to do so.”

The pamphlet, whichexplores civil society’s institutional, financial and participation frameworks,is designed to stimulate discussion among policy makers and within the sectorahead of the wider debate on the future of civil society being considered byJulia Unwin, whose report will be out in 2019.

Voluntary action: a way forward ©copyright Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness published November 2017


Share this story

This story was shared by

Adur Voluntary Action logo

Adur Voluntary Action

Adur Voluntary Action (AVA) is an independent movement of voluntary, community and charitable groups and a registered charity founded in 1959. Our members work co-operatively to support one another in mutual aid, self-help, and the building of warm, trusting networks of activity.
Find out more about Adur Voluntary Action

Join one or more of our mailing lists:

Email updates

Cancel Join now

Main mail list

Cancel Join now

A member of


A community brought to you by Voluntary Action Worthing


A community brought to you by Adur Voluntary Action