Charities have a moral obligation to speak out. Together. In anger
Last week’s Third Sector poll was instructive. When I voted, over 94 per cent had clicked ‘Yes’ in response to the question: “Have public sector contracts inhibited charities from speaking out?”
This was always the danger of an increase in the numbers of charities delivering government contracts or receiving direct funding to support government objectives in a particular area of policy. Plenty of us have written about it, plenty of times. It can lead to outright silence on an issue, but more commonly it is a watering down of language so as not to offend the paymasters. And it is not only the big boys who are subject to it - small charities delivering local services are probably most at risk; a contract with a local authority service can be a lifeline to a tiny, specialist charity that struggles to raise funding elsewhere.
So, if we all think it (94 per cent is a pretty convincing figure) and we clearly have something to say, then what are we going to do about it?
My concern is for young people. Increasingly, their life chances are coming under attack. They are on the receiving end of an ever-sharpening stick.
While unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds has dropped to 957,000, the number without work for more than a year has risen once again. Of those, many are in low-paid or unstable part-time work. Education Maintenance Allowance is gone for those who might previously have gone on to further education; tuition fees feel like an insurmountable barrier to those who could consider higher education.
Specialist youth services have been cut across the country with an average nine youth work positions per authority being deleted. Careers support is patchy with the responsibility for its delivery falling to schools once again since September.
The apprenticeships which are much trumpeted as a solution to youth unemployment have been going to far too many 25-year-olds who are already in employment – a shady practice that’s been around for a while, amounting to easy money for training ‘providers’. The numbers of 16-year-olds walking into high quality apprenticeships are woeful.
The under 25s were under furious attack last week with the government floating, once more, (the Prime Minister sent this balloon up in June) a plan to remove housing benefit for this age group. Rhetoric was frilly, full of tales of young people leaving the family home to walk straight into a flat, financed by you the taxpayer. All nonsense, a ridiculous plan and terminally ill-thought through. Take out the young parents, care leavers, vulnerable young adults and you end up with very few young scroungers to pick on. And in the case of the young parents, could any government comfortably remove the financial support of babies without feeling some blowback?
Young people’s educational opportunities are targeted as schools shift further towards academies and free schools, offering a narrow, centrally-approved curriculum of Ebacc qualifications and history that’ll learn you every king and queen since Ethelred, while the chance to study art, drama, music or even design and technology is pushed to the margins. On top of that, the modules and coursework that helped many students achieve are abandoned in favour of all-or-nothing end of year exams.
And while all this is going on, this week we learn that legitimate tax avoidance allows a company like Starbucks to pay the exchequer no income tax at all over the last three years, despite clocking up £1.2bn in UK sales. At the same time, evidence emerges of links between Conservative Party donors and the companies that are awarded public sector contracts to deliver some of our most cherished services.
I’m wondering if you can read this parade of grimness that our young people are facing and not be furious about it? I expect you are furious about it. And it is true that many individual charities are speaking out on ‘their issues’.
But this is not about single issue threads that need addressing. This is a tidal wave of hurt and it is, without doubt, going to cause the largest amount of pain to an entire generation that we have seen since the early 1980s.
So, back to the poll. It’s too hard to speak out. The money we take from the government ensures the survival of our organisations. To speak out would be to jeopardise ourselves. Are those the arguments?
Well, I have two responses: It’s not about you, and now the pressure that is being brought to bear on our youngest and most vulnerable has reached this level, you have a moral obligation to speak out. Together. In anger.
On 20 October, the TUC and other organisations will be marching in London to protest against current economic policy. Do you know what I’d like to see? I’d like to see our biggest children and young people’s charities at the front of that march, holding the banner.
Because it’s not about us.