Senscot Discussion Paper – Extract
2.0: The fundamental importance of the third sector
2.1 A distinctive sector, what we now know as the third sector, has its origins in the charities, mutuals and voluntary organisations which flourished in the 19th century. Motivated by the compassion and solidarity of ordinary citizens, these initiatives provided respite from the extraordinary industrial expansion and harsh social changes generated by the market economy.
Although to some degree ‘parked’ by the growth of state provision in the 20th century, the third sector has continued to change and thrive: witness, since the 1970s, the growth of the community sector; from the 1980s, the advance of community and social enterprise; while, the 2000s brought the increased emphasis on contracted public service delivery through the third sector. The social value of all this activity is explicitly endorsed by the state, with legislation affording fiscal benefits,
and organisations eligible for this status are regulated – a distinctive sector.
2.2 Third Sector values and culture … given the diversity of the third sector, a single agreed statement of values and approaches seems neither likely nor useful. However, in 2007, the Third Sector Network in England drafted eight ‘values and principles’, from which we have extracted four broad narratives as a framework for supporting discussion of third sector values:
„h Social justice and the protection of the planet as prerequisites of all activity;
„h The Common Good will always trump individual gain;
„h Independence from both the state and private sector interests;
„h Democracy, accountability and transparency – are embedded traditions.
Taken together, these third sector values identify a space which is sometimes also referred to as ‘civil society’; the realm of the citizen, free to act outwith the control of the state or the constraints of market forces. Activity which, in 1948, Lord Beveridge described as one of the distinguishing marks of a free society.
2.3 The common good … we are concerned here to assert the importance of the third sector and its contribution to the functioning of our society. The philosopher Michael Sandel, in his 2012 book What Money Can’t Buy, expresses concern that we, in the West, are moving from a market economy to ‘market societies’ which tolerate gross inequalities, and where the pervasiveness of
market-based thinking comes to corrupt our commitment to human social values. At its core, third sector activity is the expression by millions of volunteers and activists of their concern for all in our society and our common future. The assumption that this spontaneous goodwill should be subjected to market forces is the fundamental error underlying government policy. Be in no doubt, the UK Government is trying to marketise both public and third sectors, and we need to talk about this …
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