Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Tory's come out in favour of redistribution....

... from poor charities to rich ones.

A stumbled across this piece on charity funding on Conservative Home this morning, reporting on a speech by Cheryl Gillan (I know I had to Google her too) floating ideas on how the funding given to charities could be improved. The basic premise is that a certain amount of the money the Government currently gives to charities should be allocated not by Whitehall but instead through vouchers given to volunteers. Basically if a charity recruits a volunteer it will receive a payment from this pot for every hour that they put in.

Now superficially this has some attractions. It would create a quasi market with money flowing to "successful" charities who can recruit and retain volunteers, reducing the state's role. If we accept that increasing volunteering is an important policy objective in and of itself (which I do to certain extent, then providing incentives for charities to recruit more volunteers is no bad thing.

However, as one might expect, there are in my opinion serious flaws in this policy. A large proportion of the money Government (and especially Local Government) gives to the third sector (charities, social enterprises and community groups) is for service delivery. Often targeted at minority, excluded or vulnerable groups for whom it is difficult for mainstream (public) services to reach. These charities and social enterprises need state support to deliver these services because often the people they are dealing with don't look good on a mailshot t supporters. But their work is vital in stopping people falling through the cracks. The Tory's policy would take money away from supporting these people and funnel it towards middle class causes like the National Trust and saving donkeys who really don't need the help (and thats speaking as an ex National Trust volunteer and employee).

Also the scheme sounds horrendously bureaucratic and unstable as a source of funding. The two things the third sector always bang on about to the Government is reducing red tape and increasing the stability of their funding sources so they can plan ahead. This scheme would require shed loads of paperwork as volunteers have to log their hours, the charity then has to put in a return to the Government every month to claim their money, and then be audited to ensure that they aren't making people up and they are doing the hours they are claiming for. This is a extremely large burden for many community groups and small charities who are often run part time by volunteers, but are exactly the kind of groups who because they are locally based provide the social bonds that the Tories (and everybody else) sees as vital to turning round our communities.

So yet another well meaning fluffy sounding idea from the Tories turns out to be another way of subsidising the interests of their core voters and screwing the people they say they are seeking to help.


Anonymous Paul Griffiths said...

A better alternative which, to be fair, the Tories also recognise, is to give the vouchers directly to the clients, so that they can choose state, voluntary or perhaps even private sector provision as they see fit.

1:15 pm  
Blogger Bernard said...

I have a certain amount of sympathy with the idea of vouchers in principle. However you need three preconditions for them to work.
1) That there are sufficient providers in the market place to provide a real choice.
2) That the consumer is able to make use of their ability to choose.
3)Good market information so that consumers can make an informed choice.

In many cases none of these are in place, and it would be no easy (or cheap) task to put them in place.

You also have the risk of sub-optimal outcomes for many users. Now this is acceptable in the commercial sphere. If I buy the wrong type of mp3 player for my needs, well nobody dies and I can just chalk it up to experience. that doesn't hold true for something like social services.

This is isn't to argue that vouchers or their like don't have a part to play, just that they aren't the panacea that many on the right (especially in the States) think they are.

8:34 pm  

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