Communities: Charities and Volunteers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:49 pm on 13th February 2019.

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Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South 5:49 pm, 13th February 2019

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Yvonne Fovargue and Jack Brereton. You have presented us with a challenge, Mr Deputy Speaker—to say everything that we want to say about connecting communities by supporting charities and volunteers, and to do it within five minutes—but I will have a go.

The House has been discussing charities for a very long time. The Charitable Uses Act was presented here in 1601. I venture to say that charities seem to be rather more popular than politicians. A recent survey by the Charities Aid Foundation found that 80% of adults in the United Kingdom think that charities play an essential role. Can we imagine a positive rating of 80% for any politician?

Another Member paid tribute to the work of the all-party parliamentary group on charities and volunteering. Let me now pay tribute to my fellow officers in the group: my noble Friend Baroness Pitkeathley, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Martin Docherty-Hughes and Lord Shinkwin. I also pay tribute to our secretariat, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and—most important of the lot—the large number of affiliated members of charities and community groups.

We all have amazing community groups in our constituencies. We can always argue here, as we do, about what is the role of the state and what is the role of voluntary groups, but that is not the debate that I want to have today. I want, for instance, to pay tribute to the amazing work of WINGS Wrexham, which works against period poverty in the borough of Wrexham. It deals with the lack of access to female sanitary products by providing collection points and fulfils a vital advocacy role.

I have five main points to make in slightly under three minutes. First, the Minister mentioned sustainable finance. That is important, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield said earlier, volunteering does not come free and should not be done on the cheap. I urge the Minister and, indeed, all decision-makers to look back on some of the good work that resulted from the compact between the Government and voluntary sector. Let us aspire to longer-term funding, strategic planning, and—yes—full cost recovery.

Secondly, we know that volunteers, charities and community groups have a huge advocacy role. It was said in the Government’s civil society strategy that simply being in receipt of taxpayers’ money should not inhibit charities from making their voices heard on matters of policy and practice, and I welcome those words, but I want to see that always happening in practice. Charities have been, small p, political and have undertaken advocacy since the Royal British Legion campaigned on the rights of soldiers returning home after the first world war. I urge the Government to look again at the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 and to take on board some of the recommendations of Lord Hodgson on that.

Thirdly, I believe that we need to rethink philanthropy. The Minister mentioned the development of gift aid, which is indeed very positive, and the gift aid small donations scheme, but we should also take account of the new philanthropy whereby people make donations that are backed up by supermarkets and other stores. There is no Treasury support on top of that, but consideration should be given to providing such support as part of the small donations scheme. That could work in much the same way as the donations of furniture to the British Heart Foundation.

Fourthly, the Minister mentioned the revival of deprived areas by means of dormant cash. I hope that she takes on board many of the ideas that have been advanced by voluntary organisations. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has referred to the need for a revolution in community ownership and participation.

Finally, let me make a point about trustees. The Minister mentioned that she was a trustee. I hope that she will support the ten-minute rule Bill that I will present on 6 March. According to the Charity Commission, at least 100,000 new trustees are appointed every year. I think that it is time to give them a status in law similar to that of school governors, local councillors, magistrates and those in other categories when it comes to time off for their duties—unpaid time off. I should be grateful if the Minister looked into that because it is time that we changed the law.