Category Archives: Uncategorized

Long-run changes in the distribution of charities in England and Wales

There’s a growing debate in UK third sector circles about spatial inequalities in the distribution of voluntary organisations and their resources. This has long historical roots – John Stuart Mill was making the point in the 1840s that “charity always does too much or too little. It lavishes its bounty in one place, and leaves people to starve in another”. Other historical examples include fivefold disparities in levels of access to hospital treatment prior to the NHS; the influential Wolfenden Committee of the 1970s commented extensively on community-level variations, unrelated to social need, in the distribution of organisations; while the Centre for Social Justice, the thinktank established by Iain Duncan-Smith, referred to “charity deserts” in several publications. Continue reading Long-run changes in the distribution of charities in England and Wales

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Big and open data and the funding base of the third sector

Much has been made of the transparency in the public sector that will be stimulated by the release of data on public procurement. At the same time social scientists are enthused by the potential of “big data” to improve our understanding of social processes. What can we glean from the data that’s available so far? Continue reading Big and open data and the funding base of the third sector

Does the distribution of third sector organisations influence engagement in volunteering?

It’s well-known that there are variations between communities in the distribution of voluntary organisations. John Stuart Mill identified these and in recent years the Centre for Social Justice has picked up this theme, albeit in a fairly simplistic way. But what impact does the distribution of organisations have on the pattern of engagement? Are people more likely to volunteer when there’s a stronger organisational base in their community? And does a strong third sector presence have an effect on other elements of community well-being? Continue reading Does the distribution of third sector organisations influence engagement in volunteering?

“The power of social capital” – for whom, when and where? Sceptical notes about social capital

An ESRC Festival of Social Science event on social capital was publicised on the ESRC’s twitter feed with the phrase “I’ll be there for you: the power of social capital”. But to what extent can we assume that it will be? Can we expect the benefits of social capital to be available at all times, can we expect that people will engage to a greater extent than they have to date, and are these benefits available to all communities? There are some contradictory indications – some of which are discussed at greater length in a TSRC working paper here although what follows draws on the work of several other academics. Continue reading “The power of social capital” – for whom, when and where? Sceptical notes about social capital

Previously found inadequate? Lessons for the new era of localism

Simon Parker’s new book looks forward to a new era of localism in which the public will take power back from the central state. He celebrates the successes of the pre-1948 welfare era in which municipal authorities such as the GLC ran 70% of hospital provision – and he looks forward to an era in which local authorities will fund themselves from the proceeds of economic growth, aided by the Government’s decision to allow local authorities to retain all the business rates for their jurisdiction.

No doubt some local authorities are looking forward to doing just that. But what are the downsides of these proposals? Continue reading Previously found inadequate? Lessons for the new era of localism

High salaries in charities: bad science rides again

The bandwagon about the salaries of senior staff in charities rolls on, most recently with a feature in the Times about pay in hospices. This is part of a wider debate about competence, probity and efficiency, informed by selection of anecdotes which are designed to generate headlines or support a pre-determined conclusionThe report earlier this summer in the Sun which expressed surprise that Alzheimer’s Society wasn’t run entirely by volunteers is an example of the misconceptions that exist about the voluntary sector.

In the Third Sector Research Centre we have done the most extensive piece of work on this so we field journalistic inquiries about the subject from time to time. One argued that there were wide variations in the amounts that some charities pay their chief executives and senior management, with some heads of “relatively small organisations paid far more than one might expect”. The other was interested in organisations that might be spending a “large proportion of income on senior staff costs”. What does the evidence say? Continue reading High salaries in charities: bad science rides again

Paid leave for volunteering: some lessons from economic geography

The Conservative Party has suggested that people who work in businesses with at least 250 employees should be entitled to 3 days paid leave each year in order to volunteer. This includes public sector workplaces, prompting obvious questions about how this might be paid for. There’s a suggestion that this could generate as much as 360 million extra hours volunteering a year. That surely has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Continue reading Paid leave for volunteering: some lessons from economic geography

Austerity and engagement: what happens to voluntary action in hard times?

What effects have recession and austerity had on engagement in communities? And what implications does the evidence have for the capacity of communities to cope with both with short-term challenges and, in the longer term, about the likely permanent shrinkage of the state? A recent report by the Institute for Volunteering Research looks at the question of “volunteering during the downturn”. They argue that volunteering rates (proportion of the population engaged) have been fairly stable in recent years but the headline figures from the Citizenship Survey and Community Life Survey which they quote hide a more complex, and arguably more challenging, story. Continue reading Austerity and engagement: what happens to voluntary action in hard times?

Poppies, philanthropy and philosophy

That’s a fairly heady combination – occasioned by taking part in the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy conference on “the peculiar institution of charity” at Cass Business School, London. Friends suggested meeting at the Tower of London beforehand to view the moat, filled with ceramic poppies to honour the UK’s war dead. The installation has divided opinion – with some taking particular exception to the Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones criticising the “fake nobility” of the memorial, and to his alternative suggestion that the moat should be filled with barbed wire and bones. Continue reading Poppies, philanthropy and philosophy

Here be dragons: charity deserts and the cartography of voluntary activity

Medieval cartographers dealt with incomplete information by marking their maps with the phrase “here be dragons”. Mapping charitable activity sometimes seems like that.

The Centre for Social Justice report, Social Solutions: enabling grassroots charities to tackle poverty, again repeats their argument that “charity deserts” exist, based on indicators of the distribution of registered charities in relation to population, and backed up in part by forthcoming @3rdsectorRC research. It also calls for a mapping of the wider UK social sector. Having had a fair bit of involvement in such exercises, I thought I would comment on some of the obstacles which researchers face here.

I don’t disagree with the CSJ’s argument that resources could be better targeted and that it would be useful to have better information on which to make decisions. I’m just not sure that I would use the ratio of charities to population as an indicator on which to base such decisions. David Kane has already pointed to some of the challenges and I’d like to add a few more reflections. Continue reading Here be dragons: charity deserts and the cartography of voluntary activity