Ensuring a thriving civil society to tackle poverty

By Baroness Philippa Stroud, CEO, Legatum Institute, and Chair, Poverty Strategy Commission 

Tackling economic and social challenges at an individual, community and national level is not just the job of Government. That is a central emerging conclusion of the work of the Poverty Strategy Commission of which I am Chair. The Commission is due to report later this year with a focus on how, as a society, we can work together to make a meaningful and sustainable difference to poverty in the UK. We will be clear that doing so will require individual action from business, civil society, government and those in poverty themselves. Success in tackling poverty will rely on the extent to which all of these parties can work together, support each other and amplify each of their individual impacts.

I was delighted to see similar themes running through the final report of the Commission on Civil Society. The report confirms and reinforces the work we have been taking forward separately. First, that civil society has a key role to play in tackling poverty and a wide range of other social and economic issues. Second, that there is already huge strength and good action being taken forward across the UK’s civil society organisations. There is also good work taking place in other sectors – with business more and more looking to deliver social impact. Finally that, as with services provided by local government, there are real financial and practical challenges facing the civil society sector and these are only going to become more significant in future.

This all means that ensuring a thriving civil society sector in the UK, which can contribute to improving social outcomes, will rely on the extent to which the right environment can be created. It will also rely on the sector having the right skills, resources and leadership to make the difference that it could. At the heart of this should be the creation of a stronger partnership between civil society, business, and government.

There are many ways in which this partnership could be strengthened; through improved levels and types of funding, by working more closely together to identify priorities in local areas and developing collective action, and improving the quality and frequency of data available to understand and spread best practice. By delivering on this, action taken by civil society, business and government would be stronger, better targeted and more impactful.

I have seen this at first hand. When leading a grass roots project in Birmingham I saw individuals taking courageous decisions to overcome the impact of addiction and embrace the training opportunities to develop their skills, civil society providing an environment of personalised care and support, business providing employment opportunities and Government providing funding streams. As each took responsibility for their part, lives were changed, and communities strengthened.

Again, these are themes that are also playing out in the Poverty Strategy Commission. We are looking to create concrete recommendations for how a new social contract could be built that lays out the respective responsibilities of parties across society. Based on the foundations of this social contract, we believe that, as a society, we could make the biggest impact on poverty that has been seen in a generation.

However, the challenge for delivery is twofold. First that, too often we see Government as the sole or primary body through which societal challenges can be tackled. Second that we have known about the strength of partnership working between civil society, business and government for years – but too little has been done to take action forward. That means that delivering on this will require each of us to look beyond government as the sole source of response to society’s collective challenges and it will also take us all to act. My hope is that the launch of the Civil Society Commission, as well as the Poverty Strategy Commission later in the year, will act as a unifying call for action, through which we can move this debate forward, turn it into firm action, and improve outcomes for people and communities right across the UK.

This piece was written in response to the publication of the report ‘Unleashing the power of civil society’