Communities: Charities and Volunteers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 13th February 2019.

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Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Civil Society) 4:47 pm, 13th February 2019

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said, 600 youth centres have closed, and all the activities that could have gone on in them have been taken away. That is a crying shame.

Sadly, the Government have not finished with that agenda; there is worse to come. Their new so-called fair funding formula will remove deprivation levels from how funding is calculated. It will take even more away from the very poorest and will weaken the very communities in which the need to tackle poverty, youth crime and homelessness is greatest. Communities cannot organise, act or assert their voice if the Government keep ripping away the resources they need to do those very things.

The Government passed a lobbying Act that gags charities and prevents them from campaigning. Ministers individually have put gagging clauses in contracts to silence charities and prevent them from criticising their personal failures as Ministers. The Government have discouraged volunteers in the UK by not recognising their work for national insurance credits. They announced a plan for paid time off work for volunteering, but it fizzled out into absolutely nothing.

We are a month and a half away from Brexit, but the Government have still not told us how they will replace lost EU funding for charities or how the shared prosperity fund will work, despite the fact that the Opposition have been asking about it for months. The Minister trumpets the new funding—she did so this afternoon—but she fails to acknowledge that it is a tiny drop in the ocean, compared with the billions that the Government have cut. They can work out the huge financial value of what they have taken away, but the social value that they have destroyed is incalculable.

Despite the cuts and the Government’s failure to open up power, people are doing amazing things in their communities, and are stepping in to help the victims of Government funding cuts. I pay tribute to the food banks and homeless shelters which, in such a wealthy country, we should never have needed. There is a wonderful, rich, emerging practice of sharing, co-operating, collaborating and participating in this country. People’s ingenuity and the creativity in our communities cannot and will not be beaten back, but it is fragile. It needs support and protection. It is clear that the Conservatives will never offer that, but Labour will.