As we prepare for a new Prime Minister, the world of politics seems all the more shifting and changeable. This leaves a new level of uncertainty around Britain’s future, it’s role in the world and the type of country we will be.
The type of public services there are and how they will be delivered will also be subject to change. It seems more pressing than ever that the steady, safe and consistent voice of the VCS sector needs to be heard. We must enable our voice to help shape the future of public service delivery.
In the third sector, we are on the ground, in communities, working with people across the UK – day in, day out. We are independent of the state. We can see objectively, not through ideological lenses, but through the lived experience of those on the receiving end of our public services.
Thinking in action
Civic Society states: “political activity, defined as activity to influence policy, law-making or state actions and administration, can be a valuable part of a charity’s contribution, so long as it is not party political, and is solely directed to advancing a charitable objective”.
On a basic, fundamental level, the role of any voluntary sector organisation is to work towards making a positive change. For most, this involves working towards supporting people who may be on the fringes or in need.
Every day, we collect data. Whether or not we’re actively engaged in the information we gather, we are witness to how many people are unfairly represented, how many don’t have a basic human provision, or how many aren’t given the opportunities they deserve. With this knowledge, why shouldn’t we come together as thought-leaders? The government has an obligation to listen to the voluntary sector, to welcome input and accept influence.
Case study one: Engage Britain
Recently, we welcomed the introduction of a new policy think tank, Engage Britain.
Engage Britain vows to ‘chart a new course for policy-making that aims to bridge divides’. Focused on tackling complex national challenges including immigration and the ‘Care Crisis’, the organisation will set its agenda based on the needs of those who need a voice, feeding back research directly to decision-makers.
Engage Britain is represented by a diverse board of trustees, from the former Director of the BBC to leaders in business and policy. However, the collective states ‘we will ensure that those who are usually left out of making policies – but who often bear the brunt of them – are central to all discussions’. This attitude leaves us very optimistic about what Engage Britain will contribute to the VCS landscape after its full launch in late 2019.
Case study two: Shelter
Shelter is the perfect case study of a charity who position themselves to influence from the bottom up. For over 40 years, they’ve been tackling the UK’s housing issues and today, use their reach to consistently challenge the government.
Earlier this year, they hit the headlines by releasing data about high renal costs in Bromley. They’re quoted saying: “the next Prime Minister, whoever that may be, needs to realise social housing is the best cure to the affordability crisis we face. The delivery of 3.1 million new social homes over the next twenty years is the only way to lift millions out of housing poverty and into a stable home”.
Although the release focuses on the pressing issues in one locality, Shelter identified the opportunity to continually push the agenda of the overarching housing crisis across the country.
As a charity, you may have access to a wealth of data, potentially directly from service-users. Devoting small amounts of resource to publishing findings can be a powerful way to engage the press and bring your voice into the media.
Case study three: Changing Lives
One of our partner organisations, Changing Lives, is well known for taking their expertise to Parliament to be the voice of the people they work with. Recently, they worked with collaborators A Way Out, Basis, and Ugly Mugs to deliver research for an inquiry into the relationship between the introduction of Universal Credit and the number of people engaging in survival sex.
Along with its collaborators, Changing Lives women’s services inadvertently saw the impact of Universal Credit on women accessing their services. The research they gathered came as a natural byproduct of their work. Taking it a step further by publishing and feeding it into real, parliamentary decision making adds even more value to the work they do.
Your key takeaways
As a person involved in the third sector, it’s time to feel powerful. Whether you’re a staff member, leader, or service-user, you have the agency to make sure your message is heard.
We at the NIC believe that there’s strength in unity. So, if you’re lacking the resource to complete your own research or are in need of ideas about how to engage local and national government, collaborate with your peers.
Take your findings to the local press. Use social media as a powerful tool to represent underrepresented voices. Come together with like-minded organisations in order to find routes which can influence governance.