date: 7 February 2011
embargo: 00.01hrs Tuesday 8 February 2011
The government's notion of the Big Society is no more than a cover for massive cuts to public spending, says the TUC today (Tuesday) as it brings together unions and the voluntary sector to plan ways of working together to campaign against the cuts.
Echoing remarks made yesterday (Monday) by Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the outgoing head of Community Service Volunteers, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'These savage, ideological cuts will impact hardest on Britain's poorest, most vulnerable communities, and undermine our civil society at a time when the country needs it more than ever before. The voluntary sector is losing around £4.5 billion in funding, making a mockery of the government's stated aim of building a 'Big Society'.
'This unnecessary and economically damaging austerity will make Britain a meaner, nastier, more unequal place to live, so we're bringing together unions and voluntary sector organisations to defend our civil society from attack, and campaign against these cuts to vital support services.
'The TUC is keen to build the widest possible coalition against the cuts, involving unions, charities, NGOs, community groups and faith organisations. We hope that anger at the effect of the cuts will see thousands of people from across Britain joining our march for the alternative in London on 26 March. This will send a clear message to ministers that their cuts are wrong, and they must find another, much fairer way to get to grips with the deficit.'
National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) Head of Policy Belinda Pratten said: 'We hear every day from organisations that are fearful for their future, and public spending cuts are already having a severe impact on charities' ability to deliver vital services.
'Spending cuts must be managed intelligently, otherwise they will compromise the sector's ability to support the individuals and communities who need them most. By working together, we can send a strong message to government about the scale of the challenges ahead.'
Neil Cleeveley, National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA) Director of Policy and Communications said: 'Public spending cuts are hitting local charities and community groups hard. Local grants budgets are being slashed and neighbourhood services face cuts at a time when people are turning to local charities for help.
'It's a double whammy - squeezing them just as demand is rising. This will cause real damage to many communities, which is why we all have a duty to speak out to protect services for our most vulnerable citizens.'
Community Links Chief Executive Geraldine Blake said: 'The scale and speed of the proposed cuts will undermine the ability of communities to tackle the problems they face. We are concerned as to how they will cope if local charities like ours are forced to close the doors of community centres, youth clubs and advice services at exactly the same time that local councils cut services and the local police lose numbers. Redesigning services and partnerships in communities will take time - longer than the government is currently allowing.'
Concerned at the devastation that the cuts are having upon charities and other voluntary organisations, and their ability to provide vital services upon which many low income and vulnerable families depend, the TUC is today (Tuesday) hosting a seminar, A Future for Civil Society.
Around 150 individuals from charities and voluntary sector organisations across the country are expected to attend the event, which takes place from 2.00pm-5.30pm at the TUC's Congress House headquarters at 23-28 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS.
Professor John Mohan, Deputy Director of the Third Sector Research Centre will kick off the afternoon with a presentation about the prospects for civil society at a time of huge spending cuts.
This will be closely followed by a panel discussion with TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, NAVCA's Neil Cleeveley, Belinda Pratten from the NCVO, Community Links Chief Executive Geraldine Blake, and Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis. This will examine the impact of cuts and what the response should be from unions and voluntary sector service providers.
The final session of the afternoon (starting at 5pm) features TUC Assistant General Secretary Kay Carberry, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey and NAVCA's Kevin Curley and will consider the future of the voluntary sector in the new age of austerity.
The NCVO has joined up with other voluntary sector organisations to create a website www.voluntarysectorcuts.org.uk which builds a picture of cuts to the sector across the country, examples on the site include:
- Wellingborough Welfare Rights Advice Group looks set to close following a £28,000 cut in funding. The service supports over 800 vulnerable clients a year and helps them claim welfare benefit entitlements.
- Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centres is losing an annual grant of £33,000 which will mean the loss of staff and cause real problems for the service which works in the former coalfield areas of the north and east of the county. It will mean a reduction in the number of drop in sessions and increased waiting times for the unemployed.
- Basingstoke Voluntary Services is having to make staff redundant and stop its youth volunteer service which will mean 1,350 young people currently volunteering will no longer be able to help out with community projects in the town.
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Issued: 8 February, 2011