Voluntary action, the state and the market (Soundings 60, Summer 2015)

Author: Andy Benson



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Andy Benson

The world of voluntary action has suffered from the impact of neoliberal values and perspectives. What used to be known as the voluntary sector was first renamed the third sector (by New Labour) and then the ‘Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector’ (under the Coalition government). In particular voluntary sector groups (VSGs) are affected by changing attitudes to social welfare and cuts to public services, and by the increased prominence of the private sector in delivering what services remain through outsourcing. Groups that could formerly rely on core funding for services that are best delivered independently now have to compete for funds with large private companies. They often now play a role further down the supply chain as subcontractors to the big companies, as has happened in the Work Programme, the privatisation of the Probation Service, and the privatisation of cancer care. There is a risk that the voluntary sector will disappear, and that groups will become indistinguishable from the private companies they currently compete with and supply. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) have done little to challenge this. The National Coalition for Independent Action is campaigning for the defence of the sector.