Rob Wilson: It's time to give local charities the credit they deserve
Every day small charities are doing brilliant work serving their communities. This Friday is a day to celebrate these local heroes, writes civil society minister Rob Wilson
Christmas, they say, is the season of good will, and yet I see an abundance of good will all year as I travel the country in the course of my job. It’s there in the volunteers helping local causes, inspiring young people to learn new life skills, running charity shops or raising funds – in short forming the backbone of our communities, through sheer generosity and good will. For some, good will, it appears, isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life.
I want to celebrate these local heroes – to raise their profiles and bring them the attention and thanks they deserve. So December 16 will be Local Charities Day. It’s a chance to shout from the rooftops – before Santa lands on them at least – about the great work small, local charities are doing.
Small charities make up 95% of the charities sector but get very little media coverage and receive only 7% of all funding. We need to get the message out there that they are doing brilliant work every day, often on limited resources, and are bringing so much benefit to the communities they serve.
Local Charities Day should help to raise their profile and help them get the recognition they deserve. Please do all you can to support it and show those working in the heart of our communities just how much we appreciate what they do.
Of course the wider charity sector has dealt recently with a number of high profile challenges, particularly over fundraising practices. We have acted swiftly, asking the sector to sign up to better standards of behaviour via a new fundraising self-regulator led by Lord Grade. Our generous public must feel confident their donations are going to worthy causes, and that the organisations who receive them will act honourably. I will keep a close eye on the sector to make sure they follow through on their commitments to do things differently.
Another priority for me is to promote social action amongst young people, encouraging them to not only develop skills that will serve them throughout life but also to promote change in their communities. This year’s UK Youth Parliament was a great success and demonstrated yet again that young people care deeply about the issues that affect them. I am doing all I can to harness that energy, enthusiasm and commitment.
We are working towards improving youth services through the Delivering Differently for Young People programme, and in recent months we’ve announced £80m of new investment towards youth projects.
At the forefront of that is NCS, our National Citizen Service. I have seen first-hand, both in my own constituency and on visits around the country, the transformative effect that NCS is having. The young people who take part develop vital life skills, overcome new challenges and, crucially, have a chance to meet other young people who have had different life experiences. It changes perceptions, breaks down barriers and boosts social cohesion.
NCS also allows space for young people to deliver innovative social action projects; from organising a fundraising concert to producing a short film for a local charity, they can pool their collective creativity and channel that diversity of thought into one solution, all for the good of their community. I want to get many more 16-year-olds taking part by 2020. My vision is for NCS to become a rite of passage for all young people who want to take part.
Elsewhere, we are supporting Step Up to Serve’s #iwill campaign, which promotes campaigning, fundraising and volunteering among 10-20 year olds. Increasing the proportion of young people involved in volunteering from 29% to 50% would add almost 90 million hours of voluntary work per year, and be worth almost £700 m to our economy.
Probably more importantly, it impacts positively on those young people’s prospects. For those 16 to 24 year olds in the UK who are currently unemployed, evidence from the Confederation of British Industry shows that helping others can develop optimism, determination and emotional intelligence – all skills which are key to employability.
The young people of today are the future of our communities and when we invest in them, when we instill in them a habit of volunteering and helping others, we build a better society for us all – a society full of the positive social action we are proud to celebrate on Local Charities Day.
Rob Wilson is minister for civil society and Conservative MP for Reading East