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The Problem With The Charitable Sector, and the Positives of Volunteering

August 5, 2010

I’m sure those of you who read this site on a regular basis may have noticed my political leanings are decidedly left – to be more accurate I’m a revolutionary socialist, based in the Sheffield branch of Workers Liberty. So this whole ‘Big Society’ crap coming from the scum at the moment really pisses me off. The state (ideally under workers’ control, obviously!) should be providing for the vulnerable in society, and not only is the current government slashing any ‘non essential’ (read non profit) services, like special needs support (SEN) in schools, English language classes (ESOL) for refugees, and funding for the sick, disabled, abused and young, but they’re also suggesting that all us lovely philanthropic citizens should take on the responsibility for such services ourselves through the ‘Big Society’ – fundraising and planning services and setting up ‘free schools’, based on a model that has failed in Sweden where it was started. In fairness it is mainly the idle rich who can do such things – just what the Tories want – the rich and non-worker populace running ‘public’ services.

However, whatever happens with the state, we should campaign for more funding to vulnerable groups all the time, but in the meantime the charitable sector takes up the slack. This is by no means ideal – charitable organisations are often underfunded so their stuff are underpaid and expected to work over and above what they should, because it’s ‘for a good cause’ – this is not on. Workers deserve to be treated with respect in all workplaces. Unfortunately those who work in the Third/Charitable Sector feel guilty campaigning for improved terms and accept lower pay and conditions than their public sector equivalents due to guilt about allocation of resources. It also means that the services are at the mercy of very unstable funding like the Lottery, again something that is pulled quickly due to under-regulation and lack of money. In addition, charities are open to being either funded or bought out by private investors who may give money with a few conditions, so changing the nature of the service. Nevertheless, whilst these services are not funded by the government, those few of us (like myself) who don’t have caring commitments, could maybe think about whether we want to help out.

Last year I started volunteering with two local services that I found through the Voluntary Action Sheffield site. They’re based at The Circle off Division Street. I did eleven weeks training and now volunteer with a helpline for women who have suffered rape or sexual abuse, and I am also a RIES mentor with the Northern Refugee Centre. For me, it was a way to improve on the working life I found pretty suffocating, and a way to move on whilst the recession-stifled job market is at a halt. I also thought it would be good for me as I consider myself a pretty selfish person.

The work I am doing with these organisations has helped me as much as it has helped those service users, but unfortunately it also showed me the instability of the third sector and its reliance on funding from Quangos and the Government. The Northern Refugee Centre now faces cuts in the new government and its future is uncertain. Services like this aren’t just added luxuries, they are essential parts of a functioning society and they cannot just be slashed.

Join the fight to save public services, but remember that there are many services that have already been removed from the public sector too, and we should fight for them to be re-nationalised.

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