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Voluntary trustees – are we paying a price for this principle?

Every few years a minor argument breaks out in civil society about whether or not we should allow trustees to be paid. Every few years, someone laments the fact that it’s hard to attract people to trustee roles and every few years someone else says that public trust is helped by voluntary trusteeship, that the voluntary principle is at the heart of who we are and that it would make no difference to the number and quality of trustees anyway. And at some stage we point smugly at the FTSE companies and the NHS trusts that do pay, and tell ourselves that they don’t have inclusive boards either.
And every few years after the row subsides again, I’m left feeling deeply uncomfortable. Partly because I know how hugely I have personally benefited from being a trustee. (I will always treasure the memory of a Very Important Person in the charity world portentously reminding me that no-one should ever benefit from their trust, while I reflect on the personal, professional and generally life enhancing benefits I have received from trusteeship).
But also because the voices of those saying that payment for trusteeship is wrong nearly always come from people who are already trustees. It’s a bit like those people who have already easily negotiated the rickety stairs and narrow doors of a meeting room describing the room as absolutely accessible. Those of us lucky enough to have salaried roles which allow time for trusteeship, or those who earn enough to enable them to give their time, need to be very cautious about advocating a model that may not always work for everyone.

I’m interested in hearing from someone on very insecure earnings, who loses pay every time she goes to a trustee meeting. And yes, advocating for time off (as NCVO does), is important, but it only seems to apply for those in secure, salaried work. I’m interested in hearing from the many people I have met who wanted to join a housing association board but knew that it might imperil their benefit payments because they were no longer deemed available for work. I’d like to hear from young people, scrabbling to piece together an income in really difficult times who would like to take on a role – and are so desperately needed by charity boards – but cannot risk the possibility that they thereby miss out on a shift or a freelance contract that takes them out of town.

I’m not comfortable with a debate that doesn’t ask the views of people who are currently not sitting round the trustee table.
Are we content for our trustee boards to be staffed by people who are either salaried, or on a final salary pension schemes or who otherwise have sufficient income to allow them to make what is in effect a substantial donation to their charity of choice? It’s also worth remembering that many of the same arguments were used to justify MPs not being paid, a stance which ensured that people were only represented by ‘men of means.’

Now I actually believe that on balance there are really strong – indeed compelling – arguments for keeping trusteeship voluntary. Theoretically, it allows trustees to demonstrate some necessary independence, knowing that their income is not on the line if they present a dissenting view. Non-payment of trustees is still a distinguishing feature of the sector, which recognises the voluntary impulse at the heart of voluntary action. It’s important that people who can afford to, can give back in this way. What is more, for the largest charities which don’t seem to have any challenge recruiting trustees, it’s simply not necessary. And of course the vast majority of charities are not paying anyone anyway. Some would also point out that payment of trustees is a poor use of charitable money, (although if you think good governance is central to the success of the charity it seems odd that this is the one thing we can’t justify paying.)
But we should recognise that all of this does come at a cost. It does restrict the pool of people who can afford to do it. And the price we pay as a sector may be having governing bodies which are less inclusive than they might be. That’s quite a price.

But if we are going to reaffirm, yet again, the voluntary principle, then there are things we ought to do much more seriously . We ought to be much more explicit and much less embarrassed about the benefits received from trusteeship. How about recognised professional accreditation? We ought to be much more open about payment for loss of earnings. (And I don’t mean barristers having their fees reimbursed. I do mean the barista having her wages replaced). We definitely ought to be arguing forcibly for time off, but in an increasingly freelance economy perhaps we ought to also be asking for tax relief on time given.
And perhaps we need to think more about the future pool of trustees. As the ‘job for life’ disappears, we cannot expect employers to continue to release people for trustee duties as part of their development programmes not because they can’t but because they won’t have the same investment. And as the last generation of recipients of final salary pension schemes hang up their trustee boots, and as demands on trustees get ever greater, are there new and better ways of making sure that a charity set up today will be able to recruit a diverse, knowledgeable, supportive group of people to steer the next generation of charities?
Just arguing that non-payment of trustees is a system that has served us well for the last century may not be the best possible answer for the next one.

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Homes, houses, units and incidents: the emotions in public policy

From a talk and conversation at Northern PlaceShapers, April 10th 2019

A large part of public policy is concerned with where people live: are there enough houses? Are we maintaining them well enough? Are they secure, affordable and decent? And whose living in them?

We know that housing matters enormously. It’s a huge source of the generational tension we face as a country. It should be an integral part of the infrastructure, enabling growth and mobility. It’s a political hot-button issue. And there’s no shortage of reports and policy recommendations about it. In fact, Housing Report Bingo is a parlour game in many circles, as report after report makes the crystal-clear case: we need more housing for everyone, the current arrangements are broken, there needs to be grater sustained investment. It’s obvious.

And yet we fail to cut through, either with government, or too often with the people who need housing, and those who live in our homes.

Is this another blind spot in public policy? Professionals and board members, ministers and regulators happily talk about supply, and units. We spend millions of pounds and in conferences, round tables and seminars we agonise about the differences between affordable and social and council and private housing. We know all about scheduled repairs, pipelines and managing demand, and we can even talk the language of allocation and support. We dabble happily in the KPIs and the league tables.

But nearly three years after a slogan called Bring Back Control changed the course of British history; we seem to be very poor at identifying why where we live matters so much. For all of us our home is the most precious thing we hold, and our emotions about home are only matched by the love we have for those who are most close to us. Home is the place of intimacy and warmth. It’s the place where our most precious inter actions take place. Its the place we raise our children. The place we go to when we need to feel safe. Its where we are ill and hope to die. It’s a place for times of vulnerability. It’s the place where our memories are born and where they grow. and Home provides our identity and our sense of who we are. Home provides nurture and security. It is in our homes that we most need control.

That’s why things going wrong in a home are so horrific. Its why domestic violence is rightly seen as the most hideous crime – the betrayal of the safety of home. Its why burglary can be so catastrophic and why its occasional dismissal as not really bad because it wasn’t violent, fails to recognise the violation it represents. Its why internal sewage flooding is such a tragedy and why floods and fire still touch our deepest emotions.

Home matters to us.

It’s not a coincidence that moving to a new house ranks up there on the scale of stress with bereavement and divorce.

It’s also why people get so angry when things go wrong. Its why the twitter messages to so many chief executives feel so aggressive. No wonder people are angry – that failing boiler, that damp patch, that botched repair is affecting them in their most important place. It’s not a late train, it’s not an incident or a scheduling issue – its damage to them in the place they need to feel most safe.

Its why people are so angry when their right of quiet enjoyment, so beautifully described in otherwise dull legislation, is threatened, as it so often is.
Public policy is beginning to talk about trauma: its time that housing policy thought about how it causes trauma.

Our home is what we own, regardless of housing tenure. Our home belongs to us in ways that resist metrics and legal title. Housing associations and local authorities may have housing on their balance sheets: but the homes they support are only held in trust for the community – for today’s generation and for ones not yet born.
And if this is true, shouldn’t public policy change too? What would housing policy look like if it recognised the central importance of a home to the people who live in it, and the lack of one to people who are homeless? What would housing management look like?

And perhaps far more importantly, what would our political discussion look like? That might really start a different conversation.

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Kindness and emotions – the public policy blind spot

In the last  two years I have been privileged to have a Fellowship with Carnegie UK Trust. This has allowed me to explore a long-held interest of one in kindness and emotional intelligence – and how  this fits into public policy.

This short blog, written for the publication date, was first  published on the Carnegie UK Trust website.

We all want to be kind and calls for kindness in public services are everywhere. Who wouldn’t want to be kind?

But we also want services to be fair. We want them to be accountable and run by professionals with a strong sense of boundaries. We want to scrutinise and understand decisions.

Public policy is about relationships and it is about emotions. It’s about how we love and how we care. It’s about where we live and where we feel we belong. It’s about how we change and grow. It’s always and at all times about emotions. And yet talking about emotions in public policy is embarrassing and uncomfortable.

That’s because kindness in public policy is a deeply disruptive concept. It recognises the emotions at the heart of what we do and gives them the status normally reserved for KPIs, risk registers and metrics of things that can be readily enumerated. Its difficult, and it challenges our deepest beliefs. But a recognition of the need for kindness is essential if we are to build trust, enable people to change their behaviour, and secure the outcomes that all the rest of the apparatus is designed to deliver.

Read the new report, Kindness, emotions and human relationships: The blind spot in public policy here.

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Confessions of a Framing Sceptic

When I first heard about framing I heard spin. I thought that it was all about identifying  the prejudice of the public and then pandering to it. I thought it was better suited to advertising and the dark arts of politics than the much more complex world of policy development and communication. I thought it was a way of putting a coat of shiny paint on the crumbling edifice of some of our services.

I was so very wrong.

I learned through early exposure to the framing thinking on issues as different as children’s nutrition, housing and poverty that framing is a technique that is genuinely disruptive, hugely challenging to those of us who think we know best, and is a way of rethinking and challenging the fundamentals of some of the rather weary positions that we are all so ready to recycle.

I learned five things that have changed the way I think about public policy, not just what I say.

  1. I’ve learned something I should have known all along :  how we feel about something is as important as what we know. That old campaigning question – do you know, think or feel?  – needs to be relearned. How we feel really matters and this is true of the people who view an issue from afar, those who are personally and intimately involved and those of us with a professional label.
  2. I’ve learned that everything is  always framed. The question is how it is framed. If you describe your services in terms of pity and distance, than that’s how it will be experienced. If you talk about housing in terms of desperation and  need, then you can’t be surprised if it becomes an emergency service. The question is framing it accurately in ways that are completely authentic.
  3. I’ve learned that if you talk in the way that makes you feel comfortable, you’re probably not listening. And not listening probably means that you’ll never be heard by anyone except people like you. And that reciting  data and research evidence in the way I have been trained, may be easy, but probably means that you’re not being heard.
  4. But I’ve also learned that it’s always about us, not about them. I’ve learned that when I think about  ageing I need to think about what I want as I age, that when I think about poverty I need to recognise that the existence of poverty affects us all, and that the things that matter to me – security, home, love, friendship – are almost certainly  the same things that matter to everyone else.
  5. And I’ve learned that when you talk so that people can hear you, extraordinary things happen. It’s not that’s magically public opinion shifts, but it is that the way in which we all think about an issue shifts, and that shifts what we do, as much as how we describe it.

Framing allows us to challenge our deepest pre conceptions, to understand the ‘received wisdom’ , to interrogate all of our own baggage and to start to do things differently. Mostly I’ve learned that framing isn’t about communications. It’s about everything we do. It’s not a silver bullet, but what it does is challenge professionals, systems and all of us who think we know the answer to think a lot more deeply, and then behave so much more intelligently.

first published for #socialcarefutures @neilmcrowther

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A Community Response to #metoo


Over the last decade our institutions and industries have been rocked by accusations of sexual abuse and harm. From the Church through the BBC  to Hollywood and to some of our most precious charities we have heard stories about behaviour that has no place in the 21st century. And we’ve heard about harm done, hurt experienced and the terrible work of both repairing the damage, and atoning for the grief caused.

Most of us have been challenged to think about our past behaviour – not just the abusers, but those of us who fear we may have been carelessly complicit. The averted eye, the nervousness about intervention, the embarrassment when we  knew things were not quite right. And all of us, whether accusers, survivors, perpetrators and institutions have known that there needs to be a better way. We need to find ways of being together  that enable fellowship and friendship but avoid causing such devastating sexual harm and degradation.

I believe this strongly. That’s why I’ve signed up to support #preventsexualharm. Supported by an impressive coalition of organisations including the NSCPCC, NCVO, NOTA, Crimestoppers and powered by Re-shape, this coalition challenges us to think about what we can do to prevent sexual harm in our communities, in our networks and our  organisations. .

This doesn’t feel easy or safe. But I do think it’s a really important way of taking back some control. And a chance for all of us to get the confidence to stop sexual harm – and that should mean that at the very least in ten years’ time we’re not looking back with embarrassment at things going on that we really should have been able to stop. After all, that certainly  doesn’t feel easy or safe .


Freedom on the Tyne – an evening of history, drama and celebration

A beautiful cold evening in Newcastle and Gateshead on Sunday got me thinking about the inter play between the history of a place, its stories and its sense of self. Freedom on the Tyne – a vast and awe inspiring theatrical celebration of Martin Luther Kings brilliant speech as he received his honorary doctorate from the University of Newcastle fifty years ago – culminated in a celebration on the Tyne Bridge eerily reminding everyone of the infinitely more terrifying march at Selma. But it wasn’t the extraordinarily skills acrobatic dancers, the stilt walkers or the moving speeches that hit me most. It wasn’t even the experience of seeing a busy urban route free of traffic.  It was the huge joint commemoration of the Peterloo Massacre, the Jarrow Marchers, the siege at Amritsar, the Sharpeville Massacre as well as the decision to cross at Selma, which together fired a celebration of protest and resistance, of global connections, and of pride in a place that could put all this on. Our public square can be a desiccated place – here were people apparently from communities across Tyneside, reimagining history, remembering music, celebrating historic oratory, poetry and dance, and doing so in a way that made those apparently distinct unconnected struggles feel incredibly relevant today. Historic connections across time and space really matter – and they speak to all sorts of people.

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Civil Society and public grief – rituals, ceremony and silence

In the public unfolding of grief in the last terrible few months a number of things stand out. The first is   of course, the helpers. The courage and generosity of those who run to the site of disaster – whether Manchester taxi drivers ferrying people home, or café owners providing drinks or people contributing money.  The community centres and sports clubs throwing open their doors. The collections of money and goods. Along with the heroism of our emergency services, we can be really proud of the way in which all parts of civil society respond so actively and so quickly, giving the lie to the myth that people don’t care, and lead entirely atomised lives. Solidarity exists, and we show it at our lowest, most terrified moments.

But there is something else too which I think speaks to civil society and how we organise. In the face of disaster people congregate `and seek out opportunities to come together physically, not in a web based chat room, but in squares, and gardens, on streets and on bridges. We need places for silence and for contemplation. We need time for reflection. Music and poetry, along with a particular form of oratory have all played their part in providing both a shape for, and an expression of, terrible grief.

Some of those spaces have been churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship. In observing this, and taking part in many solemn gatherings, I am struck by how much we can learn from people of faith about the power of the assembly. The use of ritual. The importance of belonging, and of sharing, and of collective expressions of grief, loss, and yes, in our increasingly secular society churches, temples, synagogues and mosques don’t only provide material support- essential though that is. They also teach us how to come together.

I have been also been reading Alain de Botton’s Religion for  Atheists. Although not an atheist myself, there is so much in his clear-sighted view of the contribution made by religion, whether or not doctrine and faith are accepted. And I’ve also been very stimulated by   http://howwegather.org examining how younger generations come together.

At times of national grief, just as much as at times for personal tragedy, we may lack the words to console and express our shared sorrow. And yet there are parts of civil society, both faith based and not, that have so much to teach all of us about the human need for comfort, for sharing and for very present and physical ways of expressing our shared loss and shock.

Civil society   requires us to recognise the value of every human being, and find ways of expressing both our pain and our anger in ways that bring us together. Civil society can be a dry concept, and its behaviour can be equally arid.  But behind that phraseology lies an immense emotional human impulse.  Civil society knows about celebration. It knows about memorials. It knows about collective action. It knows about art and music. We are about everything that makes us human. Let’s recognise that and harness its power


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Could the algorithm kill our capacity for kindness?

We all want services to be kind. Nobody seriously disputes it. All social change starts with the  very personal relationship between two people, and yet, as I’ve commented before, we struggle to be kind, citing professional codes, financial challenges and regulatory restrictions to explain our rather cool, and sometimes frankly impersonal,  approach to the decisions that public policy makes. Relational seems to be OK in theory, but much more problematic when it encourages  us to break the rules. Rules help and protect the professional, reducing the discriminatory impact of discretion. They allow us to sensibly ration spending, make clear and transparent decisions – and create a framework that seems to be fair.

And we want our services to  be fair. We don’t want our outcomes dependent on whether the nurse likes us or not. We don’t want some children encouraged more than others because the teacher enjoys their company.

We also want our services to be transparent. We want to know that the choice of drug regime for  a particular condition  is not governed by hunch, but by sound medical rationale, linked to outcomes. We want university places to be awarded in ways that can be understood. We want to be cared for by people who we can trust not to have favourites.  We fear the discretionary and the partial.

We’re getting better and better at demonstrating fairness, and encouraging transparency. The algorithm provides a  powerful support. We’re all familiar  with the amazon algorithm – you bought this so you’d like that – and we don’t need to be terribly insightful to recognise that our daily scrolling and browsing and tweeting provides an enormous body of data that allows companies large and small to target their wares very precisely at our credit cards.  The predictive power of data analytics, and their capacity to shape services can be seen in every clinical pathway, every assessment form, every checklist – and they daily grow in power. Protocols and pathways ensure that intervention most likely to result in the right outcomes are always chosen, and that time – and money – is not wasted on experimentation and following hunches. It’s clean, its straightforward, it passes the test of legislation, and social media challenge, but is it kind?

Kindness requires intuition. It requires a personal relationship. It require both  warmth and risk. It probably involves personal liking, and empathy, and it may not always be fair. A doctor treating patients with warmth and humanity may not follow the prescribed pathway. A teacher may see a spark that would never register on any scorecard. Someone else might see the sadness behind the eyes. A care worker might understand the  grief and loss that is the source of  so much anger and frustration. They might all recognise the boredom and tedium, the fury, the fear – the raw emotions that drive us to need public services, and  sometimes to  loathe them too.

No algorithm in the world can replace human understanding. It can produce fairness. It can resist challenge. It can tolerate the bright light of public transparency. And it can protect  the professional from accusations of partiality. It can make sure that both money and services are carefully rationed (and in any system, at any time, that will always be needed.)

But if it can’t also allow for the warmth of human interaction,  we may need to recognise that sometimes kindness and human relationships trump mechanical approaches to fairness, and to transparency. It might not be the algorithm alone that challenges kindness. Our approach to fairness and to transparency might also be questioned.



Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

The future of civil society

It has become increasingly commonplace to say that the world around us is changing and changing fast. The impact of the digital revolution, the rise of new populist forms of politics, globalisation, gender fluidity, demographic change – and everywhere there is a crisis of trust.
Devolution in the nations of the UK, changing powers and behaviours for the cities, new forms of governance, the impact of funding reductions are all transforming the role of the state. And the market too is changing too with the emergence of the platform economy. New ‘industrial’ giants like Air BnB, Task Rabbit and Uber, are making old notions of market power obsolete while the titan collectors of information and data, Amazon, Facebook and Google, now control assets that are more valuable than oil and diamonds were in earlier centuries. These market makers and disruptors have been joined by the B Corps, the activist investors, and the companies now loudly claiming the importance of their social value.
Wherever you look there is change, and civil society needs to respond and respond without veering between wild panic or a retreat to the eternal verities of the past.

But we should remember this.

Every social and economic change has seen a response from civil society that both changed our sector, and influenced the future. The Industrial Revolution turned upside down the lives of people who had previously eked out a life in the countryside. They flocked to the towns and burgeoning cities, encountering hardship, a new kind of squalor and a hazardous liberation from the rules and norms that had previously governed their lives. But the moral panic that ensued brought us some of our greatest voluntary institutions: the working men’s clubs, trades unions, the university settlements, rescue missions for children and hundreds of charities. They were the products of an active, engaged, and entirely voluntary response to the challenges of the times.

Later, in the interlude between the great wars, NCVO was born, as an association of civil society, along with institutions supporting injured returning service men.

Then, in the aftermath of that massive global catastrophe, the second world war, new forms of associational life and service provision were devised to support the displaced peoples of Europe, and the dispossessed of the UK.

Civil society observed change, organised to respond to that change and in doing so, altered the trajectory of our culture and social order. Successive waves of organisational forms, the women’s aid refuges of the 70s, the organisations for people with AIDS in the 1980s, rights groups for gay men and lesbians, ethnic minority bodies in London, Liverpool, Leicester and so many other cities, demonstrate the capacity of our sector to shift in response to huge change and also shape it. So too did the housing co-operatives, the Claimants Union, the organisations of parents of children with learning difficulties, campaigning for change.

Now the boundaries around our sector are shifting, even blurring. We witness the internet and the digital revolution altering not just how we do things but what we do. We can see that some of our global institutions are in peril. The most recent Edelman Index suggests a weakening of public trust and confidence in NGOs. This is the right time to revisit our ways of operating and examine whether our values match up to the imperatives we face. This is not a time to withdraw into nostalgia about the past, nor to simply do what we’ve always done, and get what we have always got. It is the time to examine our powers of connection and our capacity for association. To examine our accountabilities, and our relationship with others, and forge a new future, just as surely as our predecessors did before. We need to ask some fundamental questions about who we are, what we stand for and where we are going.

That’s why a group of grant-making foundations have created an Independent Inquiry into the future of civil society. We’re approaching this important task in a spirit of considerable humility, recognising that some of the answers to our questions will be found in the most surprising places, and that what we find may challenge our preconceptions. But I also approach it with considerable confidence that today’s civil society will develop and change to make a positive difference on our fast-changing world.

Julia Unwin
February 27.

What is the role of philanthropy in reducing poverty in the UK?

You would expect me to start this lecture by quoting Joseph Rowntree. You wouldn’t be surprised if I mentioned that the founding memorandum of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation commits us to looking at the ‘root causes of social evil’, not its manifestations. Not to fund the soup kitchen in York, but to find out why people were queuing for soup. You would also expect me to talk about the triple legacy bequeathed to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation,

  • the practical legacy of providing housing and care in neighbourhoods, building on the pioneering work that created the model community of New Earswick
  • the legacy of inquiry and investigation, started by those early social researchers, Joseph and Seebohm Rowntree
  • the legacy of social change, requiring the organisations he founded to ‘change the face of England’.

In other words, we have a historic mission to go where it is uncomfortable, to look at root causes, and to identify what can be done in practice, not just in theory.

That’s a legacy that makes us both practical and bold.

But what you wouldn’t expect me to do is to construct this lecture around the words of a Rabbi who predated Joseph Rowntree by nearly 2000 years, Rabbi bar Hillel, who said:

If not now, when?

There are crunch points in our history. Moments which historians might later call critical junctures. Moments which we ignore as we get on with our busy lives, but moments which our successors will look back on and say, history did indeed change then. Over the last 10 years our labour market has changed, and changed fundamentally. Our housing market has changed and the role of the state in supporting people and places in poverty has changed too.

And then there are times like this where everything really does change. And change fundamentally. Moments where to ignore the change is neither possible nor right.

June 23rd has changed everything

A decision of momentous, long term importance has happened, and changed everything. A decision, what is more, that was made by many of the people who feel most dispossessed, and who live in some of the overlooked places in Britain. A decision that has laid bare some real and damaging fractures in our society, and which now seems likely to preoccupy all of us for the next decade and longer. A decision which, more than anything else I can recall, has changed us forever. And what is more a decision that seems likely to exact a very high price indeed from the poorest people and places. A decision that seems destined, whatever the longer term consequences, to herald a period of political and financial volatility.

Future generations will judge us on our response to those moments. For those of us who encourage, support, manage and enable philanthropy, we have a particular and urgent interest in understanding those junctures and responding to just such a critical point, a moment where change happens and intervention matters. I’m going to argue tonight that for philanthropy this moment provides both hazard and opportunity. I’m going to say that all of this is going to be deeply uncomfortable, but I believe that the deeply uncomfortable place is precisely where we should be.

And I am going to say that we need both urgency and intention in our response to this important crossroads in history.

Ten years ago when I first joined the JRF we wanted to understand what Joseph Rowntree’s social evils looked like in the 21st century. We spent time in meetings across the UK, commissioning learned thinkers, and organised focus groups of the dispossessed. We discovered that

  • – rather to the surprise of all those who had said the whole concept of social evils was old fashioned <.li>
  • people did want to talk about evil. They used the word a lot and they suggested that every evil they were concerned about was shaped by poverty.

Poverty that sapped capability, strangled life chances, deepened isolation, and magnified difference and division. A poverty that was rapidly eroding, or distorting the very real social gains that had been made since Rowntree’s time.

It was poverty that was the common denominator in so many of the challenges we face as a society

It was poverty that destroyed the lives of families with a disabled child – where the triumph of medicine in keeping a child alive was undermined by the economic reality of raising that child with complex needs. It was poverty that brought dread to older people fearing an isolated old age. It was poverty that divided communities, and made it so hard to welcome the stranger, the migrant, or the refugee. It was poverty that divided generations, and destroyed solidarity. It was poverty that created the educational attainment gap, and it was poverty that eroded so many of the gains of the last few decades in terms of equality. While people rejoiced at the relatively recent emancipation of women, they also recognised that the costs of this were frequently borne by other women leading increasingly impoverished and precarious lives. That while discrimination on the grounds of sexuality was now less overt, and freedoms unimagined by former generations were available, in some of the poorest communities, the gains of equality were undermined by persistent and damaging poverty. Poverty, we concluded, divides communities, pits people against each other and threatens cohesion.

What we found was that even before the global financial crisis of 2008, the fantastic social progress of the boom years had left far too many people behind, and made the lives of some others immeasurably worse. Economic prosperity at the turn of the 21st century had emphatically not helped all to thrive, but had instead introduced a new and infinitely more punishing divide.

What our assembled experts and the communities affected by poverty shared was a deep unease at what our society had become, and how we have so carelessly squandered the gains that were meant to end social evils.

The poverty identified in that process was real, and of course, after a decade of austerity there is no denying that it is with us today.

In 2012 we committed to marshalling all of that evidence, all of that knowledge, to understand what it would take to make the UK free of poverty. In this our biggest programme yet, we wanted to answer not just the question why, but also the question how? How in our modern, wealthy world can we find a way to end poverty? And if – as we do – we recognise poverty as something that affects us all, what can we all do to end it?

We could not have known then just how relevant the questions of poverty and place would be now

We should not leap to instant conclusions about the underlying reasons behind the vote to leave the European Union last week. But to identify distrust, disaffection, and anger in the places that felt left behind does not require massive powers of discernment. Nor does it seem to me remotely unreasonable that people who feel they have not experienced any of the fruits of growth, and indeed feel punished by it, should reject the recommendations of those they perceive to be the elite. There was always a risk that the referendum result would be seen by many people as illegitimate if it had been won by the establishment. As things have turned out that same establishment – of which philanthropic organisations are very much a part – should think carefully about why its recommendation was rejected.

We know that public discourse treats people in poverty alternately with pity or scorn. It would be truly wrong if either pity or scorn were used to dismiss the anger of those who feel left behind.

But it would also be wrong to fail to see the impact of this decision – both short term and long term – on the poorest communities. The rapid license for racism and xenophobia has shocked me to the core. So too has the threats to the immense gains made in Northern Ireland, and the withdrawal of investment, energy and political will from the issues which many of us hold dear.

We recognise that the answers to poverty are not held in one place. It would be as foolish to think that everything can be solved by neighbourhood action, as it would be to look to national governments alone to provide the solution. While we know that it is individuals who get themselves out of poverty, it would be naïve to think that individual behaviour alone accounts for levels of poverty in the UK.

It is the interaction of the state, the market and the individual that profoundly shapes how we live and, I will argue later, can also illuminate how we can make a difference.

Let’s start with the role of the state

The role of the state has changed profoundly, even before last week’s events. There is a shared understanding, if not commitment across the political divide, to keep public expenditure well south of 40% of GDP At a time when few economists predict any significant increase in growth any time soon, this means that reductions in public expenditure will remain part of the environment for the foreseeable future. We can argue about the ratios. We can dispute whether 37.5 or 42% would be more appropriate, or make the case that a different form of redistributive taxation would work better. But the way the state behaves has changed. Power is dispersed, differentially and asymmetrically. The role of the state in public policy has changed. Regulation has replaced delivery; political expressions of concern have replaced intervention. Entitlement and a version of rights have been replaced by conditionality and temporary support.

Civil society has changed too

The powers and impact of trades unions has diminished while that in some other parts of civil society has increased. Who would have predicted that the voice of the lowest paid would also be articulated, to such good effect, through Citizens UK with their effective campaign for the Living Wage?

The role of the market has been transformed. Global companies, bigger than many nation states, hold information and knowledge, and exert a powerful influence over our lives and the direction of governments. The so-called sharing economy develops new businesses, and uses the power of the digital platform to create wealth –enormous riches for their owners – in ways that we could never have imagined. Air b n b, uber, task rabbit and e bay may have a folksy tone and the sharing word in their vocabulary, but they are major companies trading vast sums of money, frequently operating outside of regulation. Alongside these developments we see a dramatically reconfigured labour market for services, where those who earn least also face insecurity in short-term, part-time precarious work.

Let’s make this clear – this is work that starts low paid, and for four out of five people is still low paid 10 years later. The so called gig economy may bring gains for many but for others it is an extremely casual labour market. The rapid advance of automation and artificial intelligence will only serve to reinforce these longer term trends.

The housing market too, is one of entrenched uncertainty, ballooning costs and frequently poor quality

JRF research indicates that poorer people living in the private rented sector are likely to be paying 55% of their disposable income on their housing. And for a six month tenancy at that. This contrasts with the 13% that an owner occupier with a mortgage is likely to be paying.

The poor pay more – for their utilities, their borrowing, their food and their housing. The market prices rise very harshly, and poorer households are paying that price.

So we have a state that seems to be retreating, and a market offering precarious poorly paid work, to people living in insecure expensive housing, paying high costs for their essentials.

Poverty is real in the UK. We have reported on it for years, we have measured it and analysed it and put it under the microscope. Cut and slice it in any way you want, shift the measurements, fiddle with the definitions, year after year we have reported the shocking facts about poverty and we know that it is real. And it causes untold harm. First, of course to people who are poor whose opportunities are attenuated, who are more likely to raise children who themselves become poor, who are excluded from the benefits of our modern society, and prevented from genuine participation. People who face a life of debt and deprivation.

But it is not just about them. Poverty affects us all. It creates risk and uncertainty. It deprives us of skills and contribution. It fuels division, prevents long term sustainable growth. It is the common denominator in many of our social problems – the cause of much distress and misery. People who are poor suffer worse health, they are more likely to be victims of crime, they will succeed less well educationally, but the existence of poverty is not only about them. It is about all of us whose lives are enormously diminished by the continuing scourge of poverty. It limits the development of a truly prosperous country, it inhibits the return to sustainable growth, and it costs both the economy and the government a great deal.

After Thursday’s vote, surely everyone must realise the political and social consequences of overlooking the poorest people and places.

But that harm can be prevented. Poverty is not something like the weather; something about which we shrug our shoulders and accept is part of our lives. It is not even collateral damage for a fast moving economy. It is a conscious choice, and – as Nelson Mandela said – like all manmade problems, is susceptible to a manmade response.

The solutions are in our hands. We know what needs to be done, and we know how to do it.

So what is the role of philanthropy here?

The prevention and relief of poverty is the first head of charity, and has been since Elizabeth I signed the statute. As a society we have made huge progress – reductions in pensioner poverty are a true testament to the power of public policy, yet poverty persists. Millions struggle to make ends meet, including increasingly those in working households. And 1.25 million people are destitute. JRF has been reporting for decades on the growth of poverty, and in the last ten we have been talking about the increasing phenomenon of in work poverty. Should we admit that it may be the first head of charity, but we have failed dismally? Does this demonstrate systemic failure? Does it suggest that the problem is simply too big for philanthropic effort? Should we accept that historic, societal market failure on this sort of scale is just too big for us to address?

For JRF this will not do

The eradication of poverty is written into our DNA. Our founder Joseph Rowntree counted the number of people in poverty in York at the start of the 20th century. He calculated the amount of money that a working man needed to keep his family in conditions that while modest, were not austere. He published and analysed, and with his son Seebohm, laid much of the groundwork for public policy today. He left some of his considerable fortune with the injunction to ‘find out the reason why’. This legacy we carry today. But he also left a supremely practical bequest: Joseph Rowntree combined a spirit of inquiry, with a bold and realistic focus. In instructing us to change the face of England, he ensured that, for JRF at least, philanthropy is never about the status quo.

But a new approach to poverty is needed – one which recognises the changed reality of life in the UK in the 21st century, and marshals the considerable power of philanthropy to conquer this most persistent, most damaging social evil. Can we be as bold as those early giants of philanthropy like Rowntree, Cadbury and Peabody and say, at this pivotal moment, we are called to do something important, and we will behave differently to achieve it.

In the rest of this lecture I want to argue that we should.

But I also want to argue that our considerable privilege and advantage means that not only should we do so, but we must do it with urgency and a clear intent.

But first, let’s acknowledge that philanthropy is not, ever, an unalloyed good.

Philanthropy can represent what is best about us. Quite literally the love of others, the use of time, talent and money to benefit others. It is the best possible example of inter-generational wealth transfer, making decisions in one generation to benefit and sustain future generations with no regard for return, popularity or gratitude. The philanthropist as an activist with money, as one such, very wealthy, philanthropist described himself to me.

But it can also represent what is worst about us. Philanthropy can be a sort of detached benevolence, protecting investment at the expense of engagement, knowing best and using the power of money to drive change. As a recent critic described us – low risk investment companies channelling a small percentage of our assets into philanthropy. It can be another manifestation of the privileged and closeted elites. Making decisions for others with too little thought of the consequences. Disconnected, illegitimate, out of touch.

We know only too well where criticisms like that take us. We need to earn our space – and we do this by a clear and unequivocal contribution to the public good. We cannot afford to be seen as part of the problem. I’m interested in a modern, engaged, networked philanthropy, which is most definitely part of the solution.

So in the best traditions of the detective solving a crime I look for three things, opportunity, motive and means. We have opportunity. The opportunity of a critical juncture, a time when so much is changing. This gives us an opportunity to intervene.

We have motive because we know that the huge privilege of great wealth requires us to use that money in the very best possible way, and we have talked for decades about the need to make a difference, have an impact.

Are we lacking the means? I am going to argue that we don’t.

Philanthropy has extraordinary power

It has the power to shine a bright light on what is happening, and ensure that there is no place in the UK where poverty, squalor and disadvantage can be hidden, covered up or ignored. The first ingredient of any social change is knowledge, and philanthropy has the capacity to draw attention to the realities on the ground, making sure that the evidence is there, that poverty cannot simply be hidden by different measurement. The uncovering of evidence can happen at neighbourhood, city, and national level. We can ensure that the experience of people living in poverty is documented, and described.

It has the power to enable the voice of those who live in poverty and to ensure that those voices are heard, and listened to. Not met with the oscillating insults of pity or scorn. Yet there is, at the moment, no organisation of the dispossessed. No funded platform on which people can speak about their experience. We can fund the poverty truth commissions, we can support artistic and creative depictions of true lived experience. We can fund the films that tell the real story and challenge the poisonous rhetoric of so much that passes as commentary. We can support the organisations of the dispossessed.

Philanthropy has the power to enable the challenging alternatives. To disrupt those markets that lock poor people in poverty. We can challenge the market to provide differently. Bright House offers furniture in beautiful and attractive ways. Wonga offers easy access to quick finance. The eye watering bills come later. Civil society has the power to challenge these giants – philanthropy has the capacity to make it possible. The poverty premium is paid by those least able to bear the costs. The wealth of philanthropy can send a powerful market signal that we stand on the side of people and places in poverty, and will support initiatives to reduce costs.

We can attend to the places where poverty feels locked in. Where the public realm feels – and is – degraded, where housing is both squalid and expensive, and where people feel diminished by their environment. We can actively, and long term, support those neighbourhoods and communities which for so many people provide the first defence against poverty. We have done all this before and we can it do it again.

We can make it our organising purpose to get rid of the attainment gap. Those of us concerned with the second head of charity – education – can make it clear that the fact that the attainment gap is visible at the age of three and only increases hereafter is a national scandal. We can recognise that the attainment gap is a cold technocratic label for the systematic destruction of people lives, and their opportunity to contribute.

We can show by our actions, and by our long term sustained investment that there are solutions to poverty. That it is not inevitable and that intervention commands support. We can use our grant making, commissioning and social investment powers to transform the landscape in which poor people live, and so doing make the case for coherent long term and bold but practical responses.

But we can do more

The philanthropic holders of great wealth – those with endowments – own companies. Those companies have moved on issues of climate change. The competition between companies is now to be greener and cleaner, and manage their contribution to the physical environment. Not as much as many of us would like, but they have moved, and they have moved because their investors demand it. We know that low wages sap the economy, and damage cities. We know that employee engagement is the prize for all big employers, and we know that financial anxiety destroys engagement. We know that business loathes insecurity. It is time that we raised, as we did about slavery in the supply chain, the questions of labour market practices, the ways in which companies contribute to their local economies, must all become subjects for the activist investor.

We have the power to mobilise. As philanthropic institutions in Europe did in response to the crisis in the Mediterranean and the huge movement of refugees. As philanthropy did when the Berlin Wall came down and there was a need to support civil society in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe. As we did in this country when AIDS threatened the health and well-being of our fellow citizens.

And finally we have the power of our institutions. Big investment organisations like foundations, or universities, housing associations or hospitals are anchors in their communities. They hold assets in trust for future generations. They also have long supply chains, which reach deep into their communities. Their procurement decisions, their recruitment decisions, the approach they bring to HR, all have a multiplier effect. And if that effect is part of overcoming poverty, that institutional power works several times over.

We have the power to convene – to bring people together, to explore new truths, and challenge long held views. We have the leadership to create, and the wealth to support alternatives. This is not just ameliorative, reformist stuff. This approach shifts the balance between the rich and the poor in ways that are fundamentally, and profoundly daring. This approach says loudly and clearly that not only is a continuing high level of poverty a shame and a disgrace, it is something which a civilised advanced society cannot tolerate.

This approach also mobilises people at all levels – the holders of wealth and the holders of knowledge, those with experience and those with enterprise, to say that there is something that can be done. The relief of poverty is an abiding purpose and one to which we will apply our considerable muscle, not because we choose to do so, but because it is essential for the development and continuation of a genuinely prosperous, engaged and democratic society.

At the Joseph Rowntree Foundation we have reconnected with our heritage. We seek to be both bold and practical. Focused on the evidence but also the solutions. Working with partners. We are about to publish the summary of several years’ work answering the question, how do we solve poverty? And we have concluded that it is possible for us to do this. That we can work towards a society where nobody is ever destitute. Where no more than 10 % of the population are ever poor, and that no one who is poor remains so for more than two years. We know that people will become poor: ill health, disability, divorce and unemployment are all risks we all face. They don’t need to be catastrophic.

A dynamic, intelligent, evidence based approach intervenes to prevent poverty. We need to reduce the numbers entering poverty and increase the numbers escaping. This means slowing the rate of entry through preventative policies, increasing incomes and reducing costs in the short-term so that poverty is not a long-term experience. It also means improving prospects for the longer-term to increase the rate at which people escape poverty. Poverty needs to be addressed across the life stages: ensuring that childhood and the early years provide the best possible start in life to prevent poverty in adulthood; increasing incomes during working life and reducing the costs of essential goods and services; and reducing poverty in later life.

So an opportunity in the time we are in. The fundamental reordering of our common settlement which is affecting the lives of people in poverty just as profoundly as the Industrial Revolution, and later the massive and ill prepared de- industrialisation of so many parts of the UK. Changes that we look back on in sorrow for the lack of care that consigned so many people to the scrap heap. We have motive because we know we need to make a difference. We know that we have to have an impact. That none of us want to be accused of funding by whim, or without thought. And motive too because we know that unless we have impact the fragile peace within the communities we support will be destroyed. We have seen the effects of that fracturing recently, and there will be more to come.

And we have the means, because we have powers that very few others hold.

Motive, opportunity and means

But also risk and sacrifice. To focus is to say no to some things. It is to devote your powers to one end, and to do so in ways that mean you cannot do other things. It means attracting opprobrium and criticism from those who feel their project or cause is ignored or underfunded. Disruptive philanthropy may be more effective, but it won’t necessarily garner the tributes we are used to enjoying. It requires difficult choices to be made, and surprising friends being nurtured.

Will philanthropy alone conquer poverty? Of course not.

Poverty is caused by a dysfunctional market – by businesses paying and the economy in which they operate tolerating a low price for labour, providing work that is unreliable and insecure, housing that is inadequate, and costs that have spiralled out of all control. It is caused by governments, at UK, national, city and local level, which have encouraged growth without ensuring that it is inclusive. Policies that have eroded and devalued the social security safety net so that it no longer adequately provides insurance against the inevitable vulnerabilities and reversals of life. A series of political decisions have reduced social housing to a residual minimum, all of this empowered and fuelled by a public discourse about poverty that is toxic, ill-informed and ignorant.

In this broken environment, poverty flourishes. Philanthropy has the opportunity to intervene and say: in this country we know how to reduce poverty. We will keep an eagle eye on what is happening. We will fund the things that make a difference. We will ensure that people in poverty are heard, and we will do this in ways that make it impossible for governments and for the market to ignore us.

The power of philanthropy has changed the course of history before. It can do so again. And think how powerful it would be if were to act on this together.