Conservative focus on social justice

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Under David Cameron and the influence of the Social Policy Justice Group, the Conservatives have placed a greater focus on issues traditionally seen as the remit of the left, for example, social breakdown, social justice, poverty and the environment. They emphasise a moral response to social breakdown; stressing the importance of social responsibility and focusing on what they perceive as the root causes or ‘paths’ to poverty. The Conservatives are open about the value they see in small, grassroots, community and volunteer-led groups, as well as faith-based organisations in tackling these problems. Their Green Paper - 'Voluntary Action in the 21st Century' sets out their thinking on the VCS and its role in relation to social justice and public services within the context of shrinking an overlarge state. It also aims to encourage a more conducive environment for organisations that struggle in an increasingly polarised sector.

What are the implications?

  • More of a focus on issues that are at the heart of what the sector does but not always top political or public priorities such as poverty and the environment, however the recession may have an impact on this.
  • However, the forthcoming General Election may mean a return to 'politics as usual' and a focus on long standing issues of key public concern, which aren't related to the VCS.
  • A new focus on poverty, highlighted by the recession, may put it back on the agenda, creating an opportunity to tackle the increasing gap in inequality in the UK.
  • An increase in numbers of volunteers and policies that encourage active citizenship and volunteering as the Conservatives try to create a culture of volunteering as a response to social breakdown, particularly amongst some groups.
  • The Conservatives’ tough stance in response to tackling social breakdown and the importance of social responsibility is likely to continue to be their main approach to dealing with this.
  • This approach may further exacerbate already deteriorating attitudes towards domestic poverty amongst the public and harden attitudes towards the welfare state.
  • Labour and other political parties may increase their focus on issues of social justice if they do not want the Conservatives to dominate thinking in this area.
  • The focus on small, grass-roots organisations may start to reverse the increasingly polarised sector where larger organisations have grown.
  • This may mean it becomes difficult for organisations that are not the priority to achieve funding or get their voice heard.
  • Faith groups, especially those which fit with Conservative values may flourish, whilst those who do not, struggle.

Moving forward

The Conservative Green Paper sets out the Party’s thinking on the VCS and social justice, some of which is different to current Labour policy, and some of which is broadly similar.

  • What implications would the proposals in the Paper have for your organisation if they became policy (for example, the emphasis on small, grassroots organisations)?
  • Conversely, which proposals provide points of continuity for your organisation when planning?

The Green Paper also represents an opportunity to shape policy and practice in the newly increased number of Conservative-controlled local authorities.

  • Where local practices diverge from the Green Paper, should your organisation consider using the Paper as an influencing tool?

The Conservatives are very clear about the tough and moral approach that they would take towards tackling social breakdown.

  • How does this fit with your organisation’s mission and values?
  • How could you go about influencing this agenda

Want to know more?

Breakdown Britain

Published by:Social Justice Policy Group



What is it? An interim report for the Conservative Party which describes what they see as the five multi-causal drivers or “paths” to poverty in Britain today, plus an 80 page paper on the potential of the VCS as its remedy.

How useful is this?

The report provides some detailed background to the Conservative focus on social justice and the context for their policy proposals put together from consultations, working groups and surveys. However, the Social Justice Policy Group was commissioned to make recommendations to the Conservatives so their thinking on some issues may differ. Each chapter covers a driver of poverty: economic dependence and worklessness; family breakdown; addiction; educational failure; indebtedness containing research on the extent of these factors. However, the research cited is used to back up their policy proposals. The last chapter on the VCS is useful in that sets out the Conservatives’ early thinking on the value of the VCS as a deliverer of services to tackle poverty and its relationship with the government.

Other comments:
This report was followed up by Breakthrough Britain (see below) and the Conservative Green Paper – ‘A stronger society; Voluntary action in the 21st Century’ provides more recent thinking and detail on their policy proposals.

Breakthrough Britain

Published by:Social Justice Policy Group



What is it? The final report and policy solutions of the Social Justice Policy Group, submitted to the Conservative Party. The report contains 190 proposals to reverse social breakdown based on the research in Breakdown Britain.

How useful is this? The report contains five chapters each focusing on the “paths to poverty” identified in Breakdown Britain, setting out policy recommendations and objectives to deal with these as well as analysing problems with the current situation. There is also a final 80 page chapter on the Third Sector from the Third Sector working group which sets out policy recommendations on a variety of VCS policy areas such as capacity building, funding, the Compact and volunteering. The value and the role the Conservatives envisage for the VCS in achieving social justice for all is made clear throughout.

Other comments:
The Conservative Green Paper – ‘A stronger society; Voluntary action in the 21st Century’ provides more recent thinking and detail on the recommendations set out in Breakthrough Britain.

Conservative Green paper: ‘A stronger society; Voluntary action in the 21st Century’

Published by:The Conservative Party


Format:Web or PDF (34 KB)

What is it? A Green Paper which contains 20 policy pledges highlighting the key role the Conservatives see for the voluntary sector and ways of encouraging it as a force for tackling social justice.

How useful is this? This is the first in the way of formal policy statements from the Conservatives in relation to social justice, detailing how they plan to achieve some of the recommendations specified in Breakthrough Britain. The Paper clearly set outs the Conservatives’ thinking on the role and the value of the VCS in tackling social justice in the future; in particular focusing on encouraging the voluntarism, altruism, locality, independence and diversity of civil society. However, this is only a document for consultation and it remains to be seen which proposals will result in policy or legislation. The long timeframe for consultation also provides VCOs with plenty of time to try and influence the Paper.

Other comments:

David Cameron’s speech to launch the Paper provides a good summary of its aims and objectives.

There is no formal timeframe for the consultation so you can feed in to it at any time. NCVO have produced a briefing on this paper here, outlining some of the Paper’s proposals in a number of key areas and setting out their initial response. However, their briefing only covers seven areas of the paper where NCVO have policy interest. NCVO will be responding in detail to the consultation in the autumn on behalf of its members which you can feed in to.


Building the Big Society

Published by: The Cabinet Office



What is it?  Document outlining the new Big Society agenda of the coalition government

How useful is this?  Very!  This document outlines where the new government see the main problems with British society at present, and outlines how they are going to tackle them.  Initiatives include: an expansion of existing government strategies such as support for social enterprises; strengthening local participation and devolving power from national to local levels; the creation of a ‘Big Bank’ to fund these initiatives; the creation of an annual day of celebration; and the transformation from civil to civic duty by bringing in National Citizen Service and making volunteering part of staff appraisals.  A very useful reference of what legislation is likely to be passed in upcoming months. 

Other comments:


Last updated at 16:00 Wed 23/Feb/11.

LockRecent comments


There's a new context for equalities and social justice.

The cuts agenda has a moral impetus. The public sector, as a source of investment and employment, is about to drastically change. Many individuals and families, in all sectors, are going to be directly affected.

It is really pleasing to see that the Coalition has committed to a specific Equalities Programme (LINK). To assess overall impact of the broad rnage of Government's policies, how we might seek to influence, and how we might support VCS groups and communities in the North West there are two areas that we and our VCS partners are thinking about.

Firstly, considerations about the cost implications of implementing the Equality Act 2010, within the current era of austerity, now have greater weight. Will this affect the following?

  • The fuller implementation of the duties around age in terms of goods and services
  • The use of incentives through public sector procurement
  • The effective use of the socio-economic duty
  • Reduced funding for legal case-work (eg through EHRC) as well as legal aid (especially for refugees and asylum seekers) will limit the opportunity to positively define implementation through case-law

Secondly, the Coalition Government are implementing a radical programme that ‘rolls back the state’ and includes activities that may:

  • Change the nature of public ownership and accountability: a local authority is accountable in a way that a private sector company is not
  • Shift commissioning and procurement processes away from the public sector so that they are not, in the same way, subject to EU public sector procurement regulation which seeks to embed fairness and transparency
  • Abolish local audit processes: the Government’s measures to support greater transparency of public expenditure are empowering measures; however, these measures will not complement but replace formal audit inspection and benchmarking.
  • Cut public sector employment most in poorer areas
  • What will happen to Equality Impact Assessments?

The budget cuts have received high profile analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Fawcett Society, while New Economics Foundation have described 'Big Society' as good on empowerment but not necessarily on equalities.

In the North West, a number of VCS partners, including VSNW, are watchfully concerned. Of particular note is the work that One North West (1NW) are doing. They are gathering evidence and exploring the equalities impact of the Government's localism agenda through their project [Localism and Big Society: open for all][1]?

Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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