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Voluntary Organisations

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 11 December 2013

6. What recent discussions he has had with charities and voluntary organisations on levels of demand for their services. (901553)

9. What recent discussions he has had with charities and voluntary organisations on levels of demand for their services. (901556)

I have regular discussions with charities and voluntary organisations. The anecdotal evidence is that many are experiencing higher demand for their services. It is a challenging environment and we all know that. However, I am encouraged that charity income appears to be steady, volunteering is up, giving has remained stable and social investment has risen. It is challenging, yes, but there is good news out there.

The Government expect charities and voluntary organisations to step in in many places where the state has pulled out. However, the Minister recently said:

“frankly I don’t think the government does understand civil society.”

Why did he say that?

Because for years, not least under 13 years of Labour, government and civil society did not mix or take the time to understand each other. Our commitment to open public service is not about replacing things but trying to create the space for charities and social enterprises to help us deliver better public services. There are different cultures and we have to take the time to understand each other better and make the process work better.

A recent survey by The Guardian’s voluntary sector network revealed that 47% of respondents had no confidence in the Government’s approach to the third sector. Rather than just yet another failed relaunch of the big society initiative, would it not be better if Ministers started to actually listen to charities, large and small, to find out what support they need?

I have spent a lot of my time listening to charities and voluntary sector organisations over the past five or six years, and I would point out to the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party, which continues to talk down the sector, that the sector’s greatest asset, the British public, continue to support it more and more. Charitable giving has been steady through difficult times and levels of volunteering and social investment have been rising. The Government have done a great deal to make it easier for charities through difficult times.

My hon. Friend will be aware that Essex county council is currently consulting on the future of youth services and that some difficult decisions lie ahead. He is meeting the Essex county councillor concerned. Will he give every support possible to youth services in Harlow and do everything he can to support Essex council so that we can protect our youth services?

My hon. Friend has written to me about this matter, and I congratulate him on his work. I am committed to meeting the decision makers at Essex county council, as I met with decision makers in Cornwall yesterday. There is a very real issue about the future of youth services and why they have been so easy to cut, and I remain passionately committed to young people having access to high-quality youth work.

Church leaders in Bedford have been instrumental in setting up and operating the food bank there. With demand for food bank services increasing across the country, will my hon. Friend join me in meeting representatives from local churches in Bedford to understand the complex reasons why demand for food bank services is increasing?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, because the Labour party tries to make far too many political points about food banks. The underlying issues are complex and their number is growing, and the Government are supporting them with investment through our social action fund. Food banks are a magnificent human response to difficult times, and we should place on the record our recognition of the work being done to support them across the country in responding to need.