We learned on Monday that another charity, Sue Ryder, has pulled out of the Mandatory Work Activity scheme. See the article on the Civil Society website. They've done so after a sustained attack by the Boycott Workfare campaign. The PDSA has also withdrawn from the scheme. The first comment under the article, by Linda Bush of Inspirit, is an excellent summary of what's wrong with the notion of compulsory volunteering.
Sue Ryder and the PDSA are both charities in the old sense of the word. But many charities morphed into "the voluntary sector", which then became "the third sector". The transformation happened as the Blair government began to outsource everything in sight, and many organisations which had been formed as groups of volunteers working on particular areas of need changed into professionally run outfits dependent on contracts from local or national government. They were not, at first, competing with the private or public sectors, but that began to change. The voluntary sector was involved with New Deal from the outset. As that evolved into a wholly outsourced business and then became Flexible New Deal, there was nothing to distinguish these organisations from the private sector other than the fact that didn't have shareholders.
Meanwhile, other specialist organisations, dependent on funding from government or from councils, found that the money was being diverted to the Work Programme, and to keep going they had to sign up as sub-contractors of the primes, the private sector. It has worked for some, but been disastrous for others.
And what of the remaining charities? They still had to raise funds for their work from the general public, and that meant using volunteers. But increasingly they have been used as a convenient place to put people who are being made to work. They've taken people sentenced to community service. They've taken people on "work placements" under welfare-to-work schemes. And now they are taking people who are being compelled to work for their benefits.
Many charities and voluntary sector organisations need to take a long, hard look at what they are doing and why. The whole outsourcing agenda has changed them. Has it been a change for the better?