The caged crusaders: the constraints on voluntary sector voice in a period of continued austerity
Hemmings, Mike (2015)

This paper examines the constraints on voluntary sector organisations ability to influence public service welfare policy in a period of continuing austerity.

It is based on detailed PhD research, which included vertical slice studies in voluntary organisations, including housing and homelessness, drug and alcohol and mental health service providers and religious organisations providing welfare services. The paper will present evidence from qualitative interviews conducted with voluntary sector CEOs from 2004 to 2015 which offer a longitudinal perspective on the impact of public service reform and austerity on voluntary sector CEOs ability to speak out, influence welfare policy and support welfare service users.

The experience and views of voluntary sector CEOs detail the changes that have occurred through the New Labour and Coalition governments and their concerns for the future. The paper argues that the voluntary sector has faced growing funding dependency and financial insecurity alongside regulatory and political challenges which threaten its independence and autonomy and limits its ability to successfully campaign for and support service users. It argues that the shift from support for an independent voluntary sector to competitive commissioning and managerial compliance has resulted in funding dependency and the effective muzzling of voluntary sector voice.

The paper will comment on the recent closure of Kids Company and the impact of service reductions and closures and organisational failures on voluntary sector employees and service users. It will conclude with discussion of the potential for radical and innovative community approaches which may help restore voice and welfare support.


Mike has taught on Human Resource Management, Industrial Relations, Business Management and Voluntary Sector courses at Doncaster College and University Centre, University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Keele University and is due to take up a new post as Lecturer in HRM at York Saint John University shortly.

His professional background was in social housing management in the public and voluntary sector before completing a PhD in 2013 in HRM and Industrial Relations in public service reform, the labour process and changes in management practices in voluntary sector organisations. Mike has served as a director/trustee for housing associations, such as Housing 21, social arts organisations, such as Arts Care Gofal Celf, and York Citizens Advice Bureau and is a member of VSSN, BUIRA, CIPD and CMI. Mike has presented at numerous academic conferences, such as the Value (Volunteering and Lifelong Learning) Network Conference in Turkey, the (ilpc) International Labour Process Conference in Edinburgh, VSSN/NCVO conferences in Sheffield and Warwick and at BUIRA (British Universities Industrial Relations Association) conferences in, London and Leicester and Galway in Ireland. Mike has published research on managerialisation and union organising in the voluntary sector in the Industrial Relations Journal and is working on further academic journal publications on HRM,   changes in management practices and the development of voluntary organisations in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008.