Below is a section from a David Cameron speech this month. It is clear that he intends to support charity as a part of his approach to welfare. I am a sceptic about Cameron but this, as far as it goes, is a plus.
There are some 700,000 non-statutory, non-profit organisations in the UK. They include everything from a handful of neighbours getting together to organise a play group, to the great national charities like the NSPCC or the National Trust. They include social enterprises, clubs, religious bodies, trade unions, pressure groups, friendly societies, care homes, and many more. The map of social action in Britain is a vibrant kaleidoscope of institutions and organisations, competing and combining, developing effective local responses to local needs.
Gordon Brown once described charity as “the sad and seedy competition for public pity.” I think that attitude is patronising, damaging and profoundly misguided. The voluntary sector should be neither poor relation nor a cut-price alternative to government. lt is absolutely central to the life of the nation, but with a character and contribution all of its own.
This reflects a profound philosophical difference between the parties. Where Labour think that an individual’s identity consists in being recognised, registered and assisted by the state, Conservatives think that identity is derived through membership in society. Labour think that social justice principally means equality, achieved and guaranteed by government. We think it means community, built and maintained by people themselves.
To me those 700,000 organisations prove that there is such a thing as society. It’s just not the same thing as the state. The term “the third sector” was first coined by the liberal economist Friedrich von Hayek, the intellectual guru of Thatcherism. In Law, Legislation and Liberty Hayek wrote that “it is most important for a healthy society that we preserve between the commercial and the governmental sector a third, independent sector.”
I mention this not because I want to claim the sector for the Conservative political tradition. That would be quite wrong. But because I want to show that the principles of the free market are not incompatible with the principles of voluntarism and social action which we associate with the third sector.