5: Voluntary and community welfare

Authors: and

Conventionally we think of the welfare state in terms of the state: what it provides by way of welfare services, what it costs to provide them, and what they achieve. However, as the chapters in this book amply demonstrate, this is at best a narrow conception of welfare and of the services, policies and practices operating to promote it. This chapter looks beyond the state at the vast array of non-profit making organisations and services in the voluntary and community sector. It does not remove the state from the picture, however. The state is heavily involved and implicated in the way the voluntary and community sector has developed, the roles it plays and the way it operates. The relationship between the state and the voluntary and community sector remains an ongoing tension, where increasing concern over threats to the independence of the sector have been voiced in recent years.

After some introductory discussion of context and definition, the chapter looks in turn at data on the voluntary and community sector’s scale, scope and activities; gives an overview of its historical development in welfare services from the late Victorian era; then looks more closely at the sector’s experience from the New Labour governments through to Brexit. The chapter concludes by considering the main challenges facing the sector and, finally, its future prospects.

In the discussion we refer to the voluntary and community sector, but this presents readers unfamiliar with the field with two immediate problems: first, what do we mean by ‘voluntary and community’, and, second, what is implied by the idea of ‘sector’? The first problem is compounded by the existence of multiple alternative labels which are intended to cover more or less the same territory.

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