Communities: Charities and Volunteers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:47 pm on 13th February 2019.

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Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 6:47 pm, 13th February 2019

With the leave of the House, I want to respond by picking up on a few points. I thank Jim McMahon—and thank goodness for men’s sheds. I thank the 18 speakers from across the House who have contributed to this really positive debate this afternoon. We have heard about some incredible organisations and incredible individuals and about what we are doing in our communities to support and connect people.

I want to pick up on some of the challenges for and concerns of charities. Charities hold assets of about £260 billion, and their total income has gone up from £52 billion in 2009 to £77 billion today. We have heard about charity trustees. There are over 700,000 unpaid charity trustees, and charities employ over 1 million people. I will come on to say a little more about trustees in a moment.

We heard about some of the amazing charities, and I completely agree, particularly about the citizens advice bureaux. There are the RNLI and independent lifeboat charities; our hospices; those who volunteer to support the NHS; yes, the men’s clubs; neighbourhood watch; our air ambulances; and Singing for Syrians. There is diversity and resilience in our charities and social enterprises through our trustees, patrons and organisers. I completely agree that they all need support because of the difference that they make. Our civil society is a force to be reckoned with, as we have heard today. This Government are committed to supporting growth in civil society to make sure it continues to have an impact for many years ahead and truly helps us to build a country that works for everyone. As we heard today, we never meet an unhappy volunteer. Volunteers often give because it helps them have great self-esteem.

I will briefly mention some organisations in my patch: the Countess Mountbatten Hospice Charity in West End, the Hamble lifeboat and One Community, which received the Queen’s award for voluntary service. We heard today what that means for those amazing charities that do so much. I could spend quite some time thanking all the charities in my area. People have done well to lever in so many this afternoon.

Mr Reed spoke about having to pick up the pieces of austerity. I want us to recognise that the sector has shown itself to be strong. There is a growing number of charities, as I said earlier. They are an important part of our community and they have continued to thrive.

On the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, it is an important role of charities to speak on behalf of their beneficiaries. That is their role. As I said in my first remarks to the NCVO in December—indeed, the Prime Minister has written to Sir Stuart Etherington about this—we want it to be absolutely clear that we are not stopping providers standing up for what is right. It is absolutely right that charities can continue to advocate for the community.

On EU funding, we know that access to future funding is a concern for civil society organisations. My officials are working with colleagues across the Government to inform our plans about future funds, and I will keep the House updated.

I am very keen to mention Susan Elan Jones, as was the SNP spokesman, Martin Docherty-Hughes. Her APPG does vital work to support charities and volunteering, along with the NCVO, which of course is in its centenary year. I have offered to come to the APPG for social enterprise as well. It is vital that we talk about the challenges for unpaid trustees, and I am happy to meet the hon. Member for Clwyd South to discuss her Bill. We should empower and help trustees. Yvonne Fovargue spoke about the need to support skills such as accountancy and people management among volunteers.

On dormant assets, we will talk further about that issue. We have a group of industry champions who are working on a blueprint. They submitted their report in December, and we are considering the proposals on extending the scheme. We know how much money is there and how much good it can do. There is great news for people in the charities sector, because there is so much thriving locally and we can all share the best practice.

I just need to say thank goodness for Stirling. We heard today that it is better than average when it comes to volunteering. That gives everybody else an opportunity to match Stirling. Looking around the Chamber this afternoon, we have heard what it means to our communities when people stand up and get involved.

We heard from my hon. Friend Jack Brereton how sport can help. Sport is the other side of my portfolio. Some 6.3 million people volunteer in sport. When one person volunteers in sport, eight people benefit. I thank all those who step up.

Stephanie Peacock raised concerns about school holidays and food banks and about children being fit and fed. StreetGames has launched a campaign on that idea, which incorporates holiday activity sessions for communities that need them, with a nutritious meal every day, free of charge. The national lottery is funding that fantastic initiative through Sport England.

As Thelma Walker said, we need to recognise our volunteers. We have the Points of Light awards, so please nominate people. We can nominate people for an honour. Of course, there is also the Queen’s award for voluntary service.

We heard about the NCS and the challenge of getting youth volunteers. Actually, I think people get so much out of volunteering. I have been to NCS sessions, and if our young people find time to give back to their communities, they feel much more connected as a result.

The Government are very concerned about knife crime, which was mentioned in the debate. Knife crime is devastating for our communities, and we are determined to tackle it. We set out a comprehensive programme in the serious violence strategy, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced a youth endowment fund of £200 million to support interventions for our children and young people who are at risk of getting involved in violent crime.

We have had a great afternoon highlighting the bold and bright future that lies ahead for charities, civil society and volunteers. We are living through a difficult period of change, but there is huge potential to do more to connect communities through innovative ideas. We heard how new technology is providing one such opportunity. We are investing close to £4 million to support civil society, through the tech sector, and the Government are coming together to solve social challenges in this way. We know that it can help to tackle loneliness in particular.

We have a vision for the future where charities, social enterprises and good business practice work together, so that we continue to have charities that are well-regulated, independent and self-sustaining, reflecting the communities and the causes they wish to serve. That includes addressing the issue of safeguarding, where again we have an opportunity to be a world leader. It is important that we get the safeguarding and protections part of charities right, so that civil society can continue its important role of supporting our public services and local partnerships. I will be giving an update on that next month, six months on from the civil society strategy.

It is clear from this debate that we should all have the opportunity to support and encourage our wonderful local charities and volunteers and that we should continue to work together to provide opportunities for young people. Charities and social enterprise can connect communities, encouraging further social responsibility and social finance so that together we can build a connected community that improves lives and society. Working together, we can realise that collective ambition to make our country the very best it can be: a country that works for everyone and supports everyone.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered connecting communities by supporting charities and volunteers.