What is the Job of Voluntary Services?

In Thinking Out Loud: The Job of Voluntary Services, Penny Waterhouse, co-founder of National Coalition for Independent Action, lays out the three democratic roles for voluntary action against which to test what services should be, might be or should not be provided by voluntary services.

She argues that voluntary groups have a duty to make sure that the state takes responsibility for its citizens, suggests what these responsibilities are; and explains that charities cannot be relied on, structurally, or operationally, to meet such responsibilities.

She also suggests activities which only voluntary endeavour can provide, and where the state must keep out. She explores situations where either or both statutory and voluntary services might co-exist. She sets out four fundamental principles:

  1. a belief in public services run by publicly accountable institutions;
  2. that public services be run for people and collective benefit and not for individual profit or according to market ideologies;
  3. that our democratic health depends on safeguarding and nourishing a space for citizens to act separately from the state and the market, in particular in the interests of care, justice and equality amongst people and for the planet;
  4. that within this space, voluntary services are to add to, complement, challenge and test out new ways to meet need: not to take the place of public services.

Voluntary services and democracy

‘Voluntary services are part of a wider realm of voluntary association and citizen action. Such action does a critical job as part of our democracy:

  • The First Democratic Job: to provide an ungoverned, or own-governed, space where citizens and residents can come together and exercise freedom – outside of state control and the pressure of markets – to enjoy other company and join activities, whether for simple conviviality, leisure, solidarity and assistance, personal or social change.
  • The Second Democratic Job: to act as a check and balance to the state and other powerful interests, such as the market.
  • The Third Democratic Job: to spot gaps in community needs, test out new ways to meet these and ensure these are made available more widely and that there is state responsibility for its citizens.’

The NCIA project has now come to an end. It is leaving an on-going website: http://independentaction.net. Its archive is being deposited at Bishopsgate Institute.

For previous blogs about NCIA put the letters into the search box at https://seancreighton1947.wordpress.com/author/seancreighton1947  







About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly, and am a member of the latter's Environment Forum. I am a member of the 5 Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee, and a Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School. I write for Croydon Citizen at http://thecroydoncitizen.com. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and advise the North East People's History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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