Communities: Charities and Volunteers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:06 pm on 13th February 2019.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 6:06 pm, 13th February 2019

I start by declaring an interest, because I will refer to organisations in which I am involved. I am a patron of a charity called Futureversity, co-founder and chair of the Uprising leadership charity, and co-founder of the One Million Mentors initiative.

We need a lively, independent, vibrant and innovative civil society sector, as many Members have said. Volunteering and charitable activity is a critical foundation of our society and the hallmark of a healthy society and economy. The sector must be underpinned by both Government and philanthropic funding and donations encouraged by incentives such as Gift Aid, which was introduced by the Labour Government. I hope that this Government will consider other imaginative ways of encouraging donations.

No society is truly healthy if the high fiscal rewards for entrepreneurship or investment are not matched by a strong sense of social responsibility and bonds of reciprocity. Charities and volunteers work tirelessly, especially in the current climate, to create a fairer society, to address environmental challenges in our communities, to tackle poverty and inequality and to address social justice challenges. The Charities Aid Foundation found that 80% of UK adults think that charities play an essential role in their local community. Britain is a better place thanks to philanthropy, charity and voluntary activity.

My constituency is famous for volunteers, community organisations and old institutions, such as Toynbee Hall, which employed Clement Attlee before his entry into politics. He became mayor of Stepney in my constituency, then a Member of Parliament in the area, and later one of the most successful Prime Ministers of the past century. The east end of London has a great heritage of charitable activity, entrepreneurship and that has continued. London’s Air Ambulance, which serves people across our capital, is based in my constituency, and many people do not realise that it is a charity. Weusb have the Osmani Trust, the Attlee Foundation, the Young Foundation, City Gateway, Muslim Aid and many others. The ones that I am not mentioning will be offended, but there are hundreds of them, so I am unable to name them all. The fact is that charities should not replace the functions of the state; what they do must be complementary. They should enrich our society, not put plasters on the wounds inflicted by the Government.

This week, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions finally admitted that the Government’s universal credit policy has led to an increase in food bank use. We know that food banks do amazing work, but in a civilised society they should not have to do it. Their funding could be invested elsewhere if the Government addressed those issues. The Government should support charities, but not expect them to substitute for what public services should be doing.

I want to draw on my experience of starting up charities. I had the good fortune of working for the author of the 1945 Labour manifesto, Michael Young, in his later life. It was the best kind of apprenticeship in politics and social entrepreneurship. I saw that we can be imaginative in addressing the big social challenges in our country by using insight, observation and research, but that means that the Government must fund innovation. I appeal to the Minister to do that.

I also appeal to the Minister to address some of the issues relating to unspent or ineffective funding, such as the £10 million provided to the National Citizen Service for unfilled places. We need more effective spending in the charitable sector, which desperately needs support. It was promised that £425 million that was invested in the Olympic village would be returned to the charitable sector. That money could be used immediately by charities that desperately need help to address issues such as youth crime.

I was able to set up charities to help young people. I hope that this Government will continue to support them. If they do, there will be direct benefits to our economy. I am grateful that we are having this debate, and I hope the Government continue to invest in that very important sector.