During the recent bout of hot weather, I somehow managed to come down with a cold. I not only felt ill, I also felt ridiculous: I mean who gets a cold in the middle of a heatwave? As I write this, figures have just been released showing that the country’s economy is slowly starting to grow again after the recession. It’s a similar feeling: I’m being told it’s lovely out there but it feels dreadful. No matter what the economic analysis says, when I look around I see incomes reducing, prices rising, services closing and life generally becoming more difficult. I also know that this will continue for some years yet as cuts to public spending continue to be implemented.
We are told this is the “cure” for the disease of recession. It certainly doesn’t feel like a “recovery” and yet that’s what the people with the graphs and statistics tell us is happening. Is it just me or does the cure seem a lot more painful than the disease was?
In many ways, I think the job of the voluntary and community sector over the coming years is to help people survive this “recovery”. It seems to me that the sector is shifting into a crisis mode and this will mean a number of things:
- Developing services and activities which respond to the immediate needs of people
- Trying to keep a balance between driving social change and meeting need
- Being smarter with our resources – sharing and collaborating with anyone and everyone who is willing to contribute
- Saying very loudly if we’re doing things to meet needs which we don’t believe should be arising in a country as wealthy as the UK. The rise in food banks has been widely reported: in my view, every single one of them should have a banner outside saying “WE SHOULDN’T NEED TO DO THIS”.
- Saying very loudly what we can see happening around us, particularly where it strengthens the voices of the marginalised and seldom-heard. For example, I’m trying to keep attention focused on the impact of the use of “zero hours” contracts as we believe these are bad for employees, consumers and the wider community.
Earlier this year I talked about needing our own plans in response to the report of the GM Poverty Commission (see Mission Impossible - The Graph of Doom) : to find a realistic way to address and prevent poverty, to aim to reduce the polarisation between our communities. It’s important that we’re realistic: the sector alone does not have the means to meet all needs let alone create inclusive economic prosperity for everyone.
So it’s important that we’re careful about what our sector can do by ensuring we have resilient, capable organisations. Macc’s job is to help the local sector do this: alongside our regular support services and resources we’re working with partners to introduce extra support such as a Funding Fair (book now - it's on 13th September), our new STAR kitemark, support around Social Investment and many other topics - you'll find all of that through this website.
It’s also our job to see the bigger picture and reach across sector boundaries to find solutions. We’re working with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies on a new approach to the economy of Manchester: one which is based on being inclusive of all local people, which balances the traditional money-driven view of the economy with social growth and which makes use of the wealth of effort, creativity and energy in our local voluntary and community sector. We’re talking to people in the public, voluntary and private sectors about how we do this looking at other cities in the UK and beyond (via the internet!) My view is that we don’t simply need to survive the recovery and get back to where we were in, say, 2008, we need to see it as a chance to develop something more creative, sustainable, more equitable and more inclusive than we had before.
We’ll be considering all of this in the Voluntary Sector Assembly both at events and in online discussions in the coming months, so please do get involved: working together is the only way our sector can play its part in a genuine recovery in Manchester’s communities.