Baroness Tyler writes… A strong charitable sector is at the heart of a fairer society

A lot of people are talking about what the challenge of creating a stronger economy and a fairer society means in practical terms. I’m going to focus here on the latter. As well as implementing key Lib Dem policies such as the Pupil Premium ,raising the tax-free personal allowance, making childcare more affordable and introducing the new single tier state pension, it’s important we recognise the role charities and voluntary organisations play in helping people going through difficult times as part of a broader approach to social justice. This country has a proud history of charitable activity to make sure that support is there when people are facing a tough time and need somewhere to turn and a helping hand. We all benefit from a strong charitable sector that gives people a chance to help their fellow citizens.

Of course charities themselves have not been immune from the tough economic climate and the impact of austerity. Indeed many charities faced with declining income from the public purse, donations and other forms of fundraising are having to completely rethink their own business models or risk going to the wall. We have just been reminded through Comic Relief and Red Nose day how amazingly generous the public are, even during a time of declining living standards. Some interesting research published last year by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) pointed to some new trends, particularly how charities are becoming increasingly reliant on donations from older people. Their study found that charities now get more than half of their donations from the over-60s, and that under-30s are now giving proportionately less than half as much as they did just 40 years ago. Now there are some very good reasons for this when you consider how tough it is for so many young people to get a toe-hold in either the jobs or the housing market, the costs of starting a family and the impact of paying off student loans and other debts.

It’s important that we try to understand these trends and what lies behind to help ensure that charities are placed onto a firm financial footing. That’s why I have agreed to serve as Co-Chair of CAF’s cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry on Growing Giving, which will be investigating the opportunities that exist for a person to engage with charity throughout their life. The Inquiry is Chaired by David Blunkett and the Conservative MP Andrew Percy is the other co chair so it’s a cross party undertaking.The Inquiry will have three main strands: Growing Up Giving, which will look at young people; Giving At Work, which will deal with working adults; and Going On Giving, which will focus on retired people. It will examine topics such as lifetime giving and will examine ways in which to harness young people’s natural enthusiasm to help others both through fundraising and volunteering.

I’m sure that the vast majority of people recognise the importance of charities and want to do what they can to support them, but for some people there are barriers that are preventing them from turning their charitable aspirations into action. The first stage of the inquiry will be focusing on young people. There’s no doubt that many young people are incredibly generous, and polling by CAF has discovered that junior school children are already giving £20m a year to charity. With more than half of young people believing that helping others is more important than helping themselves, it’s clear that today’s children are already charitable and committed to giving to the causes they care about.

However as CAF’s research has found, something appears to be preventing them from continuing when they enter adulthood. Of course people struggle to give when their financial life is difficult. But we need to look at what charities can do to encourage younger people to interact with them, and that includes investigating how the power of social media can be used, what roles exist for young people to become trustees of charities, and how charities can work with schools to promote the work that they do.

We’ll be taking evidence from experts to get a better understanding of how charities already engage with young people, and how this interaction can be improved to ensure that we try and tackle generational trends in giving.

Besides as we all know giving – either time or money – to charity isn’t a mere transaction: it’s about showing that you care about others and want to make a difference. I think that a strong charitable sector is at the very heart of the fairer society that Liberal Democrats are committed to creating.

* Claire Tyler, Baroness Tyler of Enfield, has been in the House of Lords since 2011, taking an active role in the areas of health and social care, welfare reform, social mobility, well-being, children and family policy, machinery of government and the voluntary sector. She is the Liberal Democrat member of the Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, and co-chair of the APPG on Social Mobility

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  • The evidence shows that a charitable sector grows when the state fails. This means a failure of the “from each according to his means” model of fairness, to a model based essentially on a “tax” on caring.

    Examples of a strong charity sector includes food banks (because the government has failed to adequately care for the people), and third world countries undermined by corruption.

  • As the chairman of trustees of a FoodBank, I have to say there are very many reasons people need our help, not simpley because government has failed to care for people.

  • Peter Hayes 18th Mar '13 - 7:29pm

    We need much stronger regulation of the charitable sector. Are public schools charities? Are some of the Muslim charities sending money where they say? Are other charities charging too much in administration or even being used as a tax avoidance scheme?

  • I’m glad you’re doing this review … can you also consider whether it’s right for so much of charities’ money to be spent on “campaigns officers”? To my mind this is basically political activity more than anything and I suspect most donors would be shocked if they knew how much of their contributions are frittered away on this kind of activity.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Mar '13 - 8:56pm

    Dominic, charities campaigning are not frittering away money, one of the most effective ways to change things is through lobbying. I actually think this is one of the most valuable things that charities do. Let charities decide how to run their charities.

  • daft h'a'porth 18th Mar '13 - 11:59pm

    @Peter Hayes
    “We need much stronger regulation of the charitable sector. Are public schools charities? ”

    The govt are turning quangos into ‘non-profits’ these days, cough cough, why hello there, JISC. It’s got to the point where non-profit means absolutely nothing except possibly for ‘the government do not want to be held accountable for whatever these buggers get up to (but don’t feel like taxing it either).’ I am very suspicious of non-profits at this stage -from my experience of the sector, the term doesn’t always mean ‘charity’ in any strong sense, let alone ‘worthy cause’. Often it means ‘We have figured out how to con the guilt-ridden middle-class into giving us money.’ Sad, yes, but true. Even bloody Scientology has non-profit status in the UK, which pretty much tells you everything.

    These days I check charities out carefully before donating anything.

  • daft h'a'porth 19th Mar '13 - 1:08pm

    @Mike Tuffrey
    I guess the state vs charity debate may be narrow, but it probably is key to understanding attitudes to charitable giving.

    In the last couple of years British Waterways aka the Canal and River Trust, the Design Council, the National Endowment of Science, Technology and the Arts, the Theatres Trust, the School Food Trust, and JISC all became charities. This shifting of government functions into the ‘don’t blame us’ charity box, which as far as I can tell is the result of governments not wanting to be challenged on the loopier functions and costs of said organisations, results in unstable environments, screwed up infrastructure, immense exasperation on everybody’s part… and intensified cynicism about charitable organisations as a concept.

    Perhaps Baroness Tyler’s consultation could consider the possibility of coming up with some independently validated health-checks for charities. Percentage of income spent directly on working with ordinary citizens, for example. Amount of money spent on employing chuggers. Number of times the charity uses the word ‘customers’. Amount of money spent on assets like buildings. Number of events held in central London. Number of staff on over twice average national pay. Yes, I know charities publish annual accounts/reports: I’m thinking of something more like a traffic-light system, included on all documents published, press releases in particular… Also, maybe charities could earn badges! NESTA and JISC should like that. They spend enough time telling the rest of us that gameification is innovative and revolutionary and can result in lasting change for the better, so why don’t we test it out on them?

    Under that system we could all immediately see which charities are just government-sanctioned tax avoidance, leftover quangos or self-important nonsense and which charities actually deserve our attention, time and money. As it is, society has developed a healthy mistrust for privileged numbskulls bleating about the importance of their mission, and frankly I don’t blame society in the least. If you want people to have faith in the importance of charity you need the word ‘charity’ to have a real meaning.

  • Claire Tyler 2nd Apr '13 - 12:11pm

    Thanks very much for the feedback. I’m really sorry not to have responded earlier but unfortunately have been very unwell for the last few weeks. I will certainly feed these points into the inquiry – the Inquiry has got it’s first meeting on 17 April. And Mike yes I agree that the issue of giving time is every bit as important as giving money – it’s a point I have been emphasising since I agreed to do this and will continue to make. i’ll do another post when the Inquiry is part way through its work.

  • Mary Steele 29th Nov '15 - 2:45pm

    Is the third sector inclusive or even a more fair alternative to local government? In this area of multi-thousands of people we have a third sector organisation claiming vast amounts of cash in the name of residents , the majority of which have no knowledge of the organisation. There is no accountability to those local people who have no idea what money has been drawn in nor where it is spent. The majority of people on the board have been brought in from other places and although they might have organisational skills and financial knowledge, they can have little idea how the n eighbourhood ticks. In short, we are having things done for us rather than with us and the amount of waste on failed projects is enormous. We might have a couple of new buildings but for most here, life goes on in much the same way it ever did despite the existence of this third sector organisation working in our midst.

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