Many charities have long known what happens when people become shut out of inflexible, unresponsive state services but cannot make themselves heard in the market. The plans set out by Ed Miliband aim to put people in the driving seat when it comes to health, education, social care and other public services.
The purpose and mission of the next Labour government will be “people-powered public services”, pushing power downwards, out of Whitehall, so that all people, and not just those at the top, have the chance to shape their lives and services.
This puts the voluntary sector in a critical position. Charities are one way in which communities have traditionally organised and given voice to collective concerns. They are especially gifted at providing a megaphone for the most vulnerable, who too often go unheard. Charities also play a unique role in giving people the confidence and skills to challenge, organise and create change.
As the innovation charity Nesta’s People Powered Health project has shown, giving people the power to design, commission, produce or deliver their own services puts the things that matter to them back at the heart of public services.
Putting people back in control means there is not just one “right” way of doing things and no universal delivery mechanism, except to start with the energy, passion, creativity and strength in communities and build from there. As charities that support people day in, day out will know, you have to start with the potential that people have and not the problems they pose.