But how much do you feel you know about our sector? Might you be carrying some misperceptions, even myths, around in your head? Before you make rushed decisions here it may be worth asking: what is the voluntary and community sector?
Here are seven things it may be useful to know.
- 162,000 charities in the UK, with
- 827,000 employees
- 14 million people volunteer at least once a month
But it’s also challenged
If you were hoping that the VCS can supply the significant new resources that the NHS needs for sustainability, then I have bad news for you.
- Annual total income has been largely flat since 2007-08
- Austerity for local authorities has massively reduced local grants, especially for ‘infrastructure’ organisations
- Grants have been replaced by competitive tenders – driving down price and quality and threatening independence (e.g. through changing organisations’ values and mission, or restricting their advocacy through ‘gagging’ clauses)
- New needs have arisen – think of the now more than £6m spent on food banks
Its organisations come in all shapes and sizes.
- Around 2% of the VCS organisations account for nearly half its income and assets – the ‘major’ charities that have recognisable names
- Half the sector is made up of ‘micro’ groups and organisations with almost no assets or income – the ‘truly voluntary’ end of the sector
- In between are small, medium and some large organisations that may have lots of expertise and knowledge but strictly limited capacities
- While the major charities have managed to maintain or slightly increase their turnover since 2007-08, the small and medium charities have suffered substantial downturns
Charities are not really competing for contracts
- Of £227 bn spent on public procurement across all sectors of activity, only 5% goes to the VCS
- Only the ‘major’ and ‘large’ charities have the capacity and economies of scale to chase contracts across different local areas – around 6% of the sector’s organisations
- Most patient charities are more interested in advocacy for their beneficiaries and getting services redesigned for better care and support, than in direct service provision
It may not be doing much in ‘health’
The VCS in health and social care is probably worth around £12 bn a year. Most of this is in social care, and most of these organisations class themselves as providing ‘education’ (ie information and support to use it) rather than big services.
At a local level, while a large number of organisations and informal groups will be contributing in some way to ‘wellbeing’, only a few will be engaged directly with the health system or health issues.
VCS organisations can play multiple roles at the same time
Generalising about the voluntary and community sector is rarely helpful. For instance, organisations do not see themselves as ‘providers’, in the same way that private sector companies do.
As value-driven organisations, they will invest in activities that help their clients and beneficiaries, and these may at any time include:
- Providing direct information and education, for example through leaflets, helplines and websites
- Direct small scale support through services such as advisers and befrienders, transport to appointments, support for care coordination
- Supporting self help, for example through peer support groups and online Representation – for example on local committees, consultations etc
- Service change – working with statutory and professional partners to improve quality and spread innovation
- Fundraising for medical research
Commissioners, you have a legal duty to consider the sector
No, you won’t find that in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 – it’s in the Social Value Act 2012.
This requires public authorities such as Clinical Commissioning Groups, when making procurements, to consider how these might ‘improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the relevant area’.
These elements of value should cause every commissioner to consider whether making use of the VCS assets of the area will add value.
For some great examples of authorities using this in practice see the Cabinet Office website.
Sadly there are not many examples directly from the NHS yet – but, with all that’s now going on, you’re going to change that, aren’t you?
Published on Friday 8 April 2016 and updated on Monday 18 April 2016 to reflect latest statistics.