Labour has long recognised the voluntary and community sector (VCS) as a vital part of our society, and indeed any civilised society. Clearly, not every service should be provided by either the state or private markets.
There are over 163,000 charities registered in our country and many times that number of voluntary, not for profit organisations. Over 15 million people engage in some form of voluntary activity at least once a month and well over half of us give to a charity on a regular basis.
One of the most often used and well-known of Gandhi's quotes is that, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." By this measure, the current Government is failing not just in its 'Big Society' aim, it is also destroying our nation's greatness.
This week has illustrated just how the Government is continuing to heap pressure on the voluntary and community sector. Charities are suffering a triple hit with cuts of over 45 per cent in central government funding, local councils being forced to cut their VCS budgets, and a significant reduction in donations.
Yet with millions of ordinary hard-working people struggling to make ends meet as a result of the sharp rise in the cost of living and declining real wages, along with the Government's devastating cuts to the VCS budget, charities are under pressure like never before.
According to a detailed poll by the Guardian's Voluntary Sector Network, out yesterday, more than 85% of the VCS expect demand for their services to increase over the next 12 months. Of these, well over a third believed there would be a 'dramatic rise' in such demand.
The survey also revealed that concerns over funding are so great amongst the sector that nearly one charity in 10 thinks it will not exist in five years, with over a quarter of charities uncertain about their organisation's future.
Perhaps most revealing of all was that nearly half of those surveyed have 'no confidence' in the Tory-led Government's approach to the third sector. No confidence at all. One respondent to the survey stated that, "Charities are being expected to take up the slack of government cuts to services, without the financial support to do so."
This is yet more evidence of the gap between David Cameron's Big Society rhetoric and the reality of his policies which are hitting the charitable sector hard. Too many charities are being forced to cut back on the support they provide to some of the most vulnerable in our society in their time of greatest need.
So far this year we have seen several small charities providing valuable services to local people forced to close, including Cornwall's Community Volunteer Service. Large, national charities are also suffering as a result. Oxfam recently reported a 16% fall in voluntary income while the British Red Cross announced a £14 million reduction in its funding in the last year.
The Government's systematic destruction of support for the voluntary and community sector is hitting those who rely on and use the services the sector provides. Shamefully, it is yet another example of the Tories' hitting the most vulnerable in our society the hardest.
When millionaires are receiving a tax cut of hundreds of thousands of pounds and the wealth of the very richest in society has exceeded the levels seen prior to the recession it is clearer than ever that we are not 'all in this together'.
For all David Cameron's 'Big Society' rhetoric at the last General Election, the truth is that since then, he has consistently made the wrong choices and as a result, his Government is comprehensively betraying the long standing values and work of the voluntary and community sector in this country.