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The strategic planning in welfare provision that characterised the post-war decades ended in doubts, reassessment, and recrimination. After the oil crisis in the mid-1970s, the spending limits of the state social services propelled a revival of interest in charitable provision. The New Right, with its reversion to the language of the minimal state, echoed sentiments that had been little commended since the heyday of Victorian liberalism. But such sentiments were being voiced in a world that had lost its Christian underpinnings and in which more and more women went out to work, leaving them less time for volunteering. Mrs Thatcher, an admirer of Victorian values, often spoke in glowing terms of voluntarism, but her Victorian values were highly selective. She had a need for political control that expressed itself in greater centralisation, not less, and carried forward the very collectivist agenda she disavowed.

Mrs Thatcher failed to recall that the Victorians saw little virtue in blurring the boundaries between the state and voluntary institutions. On this issue, one of the measures of her administration was particularly significant, though now little remembered. Section 5 of the Health Services Act of 1980 permitted hospitals to organise their own appeals. Giving what amounted to charitable status to statutory bodies stunned the charitable establishment. Those myriad societies which had struggled to find a place alongside the NHS as money-raisers for hospitals were now in direct competition with the largest, most heavily financed enterprise in the whole field of social welfare, whose fund-raising drives were to be financed by the Treasury. The then Chairman of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Sara Morrison, declared that the Health Services Act represented "the most damaging blow suffered by the voluntary sector for many years".

The decline of world socialism after the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 had more positive repercussions for voluntary traditions than Mrs Thatcher and the New Right. It was a powerful reminder of the political benefits of voluntary activity. The decline of British socialism challenged the Whiggish assumption that social provision was a linear progression towards a model welfare state. The challenges to collectivism effectively changed the language of politics, reshaping the context in which charity was understood. In the 1990s, charity came to be elided with notions of civil society or community service. If social engineering was the fashion in post-war Britain, welfare pluralism, with its emphasis on democratic local initiative, was increasingly the language. The Labour Party under Tony Blair, reeling from Thatcherism at home and the collapse of socialism abroad, felt obliged to cast aside the dogmas of the past and embrace charitable institutions. Politicians of all hues now conceded that the state had failed to elevate the principle of social duty, and adopted the mantra of balancing rights with personal responsibility. This did not, however, diminish their desire to co-opt and control voluntary societies.

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Malcolm McLean
November 11th, 2014
2:11 AM
Running a charity is a good middle class route to influence and government funds. There's usually an element of sincere motive, but pretty soon a grant or partnership comes along. That's so important to the charity that retaining this relationship becomes the overriding priority. People running the charity also benefit personally, if not by direct financial compensation, then indirectly by being asked to help formulate government policy, which is flattering, and tends to turn into financial benefit.

Malcolm McLean
November 11th, 2014
2:11 AM
Running a charity is a good middle class route to influence and government funds. There's usually an element of sincere motive, but pretty soon a grant or partnership comes along. That's so important to the charity that retaining this relationship becomes the overriding priority. People running the charity also benefit personally, if not by direct financial compensation, then indirectly by being asked to help formulate government policy, which is flattering, and tends to turn into financial benefit.

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