If the state provides less, who will provide more?
This is an important question because the answer has implications for everyone.
Initially, my concern was for the voluntary sector and civil society.
How can our voluntary sector meet more demand as the state retreats? Government support for charities is falling and some local authorities are losing 50% of their funding. According to the Charities Aid Foundation, charitable giving has not grown in real terms for decades despite a colossal increase in personal wealth.
Community Foundations ARE bucking the trend by increasing their endowments. This, together with Big Lottery support for communities, is vital as nearly half of all small local charities say they may not exist within 5 years. No doubt Dawn Austwick will comment on this.
BREXIT, the election of Trump, terrorism, record numbers of refugees, political extremism and the Grenfell Tower fire are forcing us to think beyond the needs of civil society and to the prospects for our democracy.
We face serious challenges. For example;
There IS a growing wealth gap between rich and poor, between generations and between regions. This undermines communities and social cohesion.
Unaffordable housing threatens to become a catastrophe for the young.
There is rising incidence of mental illness, particularly amongst the young.
These are symptoms of political failure.
If we are serious about finding solutions, we should look to the beyond profit sector which has been a source of progressive change for centuries.
Today, the contribution made by philanthropy and social enterprise benefits everyone.
The ability of the NHS to look after us rests upon a bedrock of academic medicine and research that is almost entirely funded by charitable giving, note the Wolfson Foundation £20m grant for research into Alzheimers.
Pioneering research into the growing mental health problems of young people is being led by a new charity MQ, entirely funded by charitable giving.
The role of philanthropy in tertiary education is increasingly important, particularly for research and for those pursuing a vocational career. How else are we to create the intellectual capital needed to invest in our knowledge economy so that we can compete internationally with countries who invest far more than we do?
Our creative industries are one of the fastest growing parts of the economy yet our cultural achievements would be impossible without philanthropy and sponsorship.
Charity and philanthropy are addressing a particular aspect of inequality by empowering those from minorities, as Rushanara Ali will testify.
Charities are leading the way, as Chris Wright will remind us, in the reform of public services and their delivery by working in partnership with communities and the public and private sectors.
Philanthropy gave birth to social housing and we need more of both now. Philanthropists have invested in academies because they understand the importance of education and the need to invest in it. We need new 21st century Peabodys to recreate the same sense of mission and legacy in terms of housing.
There are other ways to solve the housing crisis and to regenerate communities: by social enterprise and community ownership. Look at east London.
A community owned company was created in Poplar in the 1980’s that now has 9000 properties and runs a £1.7 billion regeneration programme by bringing housing, health and education all together. Profits are returned to and reinvested in the community.
Following cuts to youth services, a philanthropic initiative in the north of England has led to a charitable enterprise in which local authorities are in partnership with local and national donors and volunteers. Onside Youth Zones combat unemployment and deprivation, and empower 30,000 youngsters in some of our poorest towns.
Philanthropy is convening public and private resources at a local level to meet local need and to unite communities.
Moreover, local authority money is committed without the ticking of boxes. This is real partnership between the sectors.
In conclusion, the key lessons I have learned are these:
The change we need is most likely to come from the bottom up rather than top down.
Philanthropy and social enterprise are not only for the rich and have the power to connect people to society and to their communities.
Neither the state nor any of the other sectors are able, on their own, to create the social, cultural and intellectual capital needed to sustain our society and economy.
Governments of both main parties have unrealistic expectations about the role of philanthropists and charities.
Politicians (present company excepted) need to understand that the state’s commitment to the common good is a prerequisite for philanthropists who WILL support the public sector but only within a genuine partnership.
Politicians also need to understand the limitations of the state and that the social investment we need is more likely to be generated by collaboration between all the sectors.
Of course philanthropy cannot solve everything but in partnership with the state and others, philanthropy can be a catalyst to generate positive social change. We need more of it.
Our world is changing. Economically, politically and socially, this is a defining moment for Britain. We must adapt.
If the state does less, we need an initiative that encourages more citizens to participate and do more, to empower communities and to heal division and disengagement.
Can we recreate a concept of the Common Good that inspires more of us and thereby ensures that future generations inherit a thriving, healthy society and liberal democracy?
And if so, how?
What do you think?
Our Common Good here for £20!