There is widespread consensus that charities and volunteering organisations are an integral part of our society. Research from the Charities Aid Foundation has shown that 80% of UK adults think that charities play an essential role in their local communities.
My constituency is an excellent example of why this is the case. The community has an amazing network of voluntary organisations who carry out wonderful work to ensure that support is there for those who desperately need it. Locally, we have a whole range of different groups and organisations that provide information and support, helping people to find what they need to get back on track. Acts of generosity and compassion from local volunteers and charities in my constituency provide lifelines for people in need. These volunteers are critical to the functioning of our communities. They represent the very best of us.
In Britain, we have a proud tradition of generosity and helping those in need. The voluntary sector is a cornerstone of that tradition. But the Government must build on this by supporting initiatives to help people of all ages and backgrounds to volunteer. There is little evidence to suggest that they are committed to doing so. In 2015, the Conservative party announced plans to introduce volunteering leave for workers. Little effort has been made to follow through on this pledge, and it appears to have been quietly put to one side.
After more than eight years of Tory austerity, there is an over-reliance on the generosity of local people as a substitute for properly funded local services. Volunteers should not be expected to pick up the pieces when swingeing Tory cuts shatter our local communities. Despite their best efforts, voluntary organisations are seriously struggling to step in to replace local services. Cuts to local government have led to the closure of 428 day centres, 1,000 children’s centres, 600 youth centres and 478 public libraries. Make no mistake: cuts to these services are cuts to the very fabric of our society. Without proactive local services and a well-supported voluntary sector, loneliness, isolation and social division will rise. If the Government are serious about connecting communities by supporting charities and volunteers, they will make good on the Prime Minister’s promise last year that “austerity is over”. It is high time the Government put an end to austerity before the damage done is irreparable.
I thank, commend and salute all volunteers and everyone working for charities and community groups. I am proud to be the MP for Warrington South and to represent this country, where we have such people in our society, making a huge difference.