Iain Duncan Smith is a former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, founded the Centre for Social Justice, and is MP for Chingford and Woodford Green.
One of the things I have been most impressed with in my constituency over the last year is how many people have been mobilised to help their neighbours, especially those who are elderly or had to shield, and I know this has been the case up and down the country.
These acts of kindness and community fellowship have been bright lights during the pandemic. Charities have been at the heart of this, supporting the most vulnerable in their communities and doing everything in their power to keep their services open as the world shut down around them.
Each year, the Centre for Social Justice (the think tank I founded) recognises some of these outstanding charities through our annual awards, where each winner is given £10,000 and a chance to showcase their life-changing work.
What makes the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) unique is that rather than being a think tank wrapped only in the Westminster bubble, our policy recommendations are informed directly from over 400 small charities spread around the country who apply their expertise and local knowledge to fight poverty in innovative ways.
And these methods are effective. Reforms the CSJ bring forward are based on what has been road tested and proven to work on the ground. Our charities know their clients, understanding that it is relationships not systems that empower people to build a better life for themselves.
This year it was only right that we recognise charities that have tailored their services to meet the specific needs of the pandemic, showing the very best of localism and the power of the community spirit. Many of the CSJ Alliance charities have harnessed the power of the community to support their work. Often for the first time, neighbourhoods have come together to support their most vulnerable members, demonstrating the very best of the British spirit and something which I hope will be one of the few enduring side effects of this pandemic.
Take for example one of this year’s winners, MCR Pathways, a mentoring and talent development programme which supports young people in or on the edges of the care system in Scotland. The charity supports 2,500 young people and, due to the intensive mentoring provided by volunteers, have seen 82 percent of their mentored pupils go on to college, university or employment compared to just 60 per cent of non-mentored peers.
During lockdown, MCR Pathways organised funding to deliver over 300 laptops and data connections to pupils across Scotland who were digitally excluded and could not receive online lessons. A unique aspect of the MCR Pathways model is that the charity hands the programme over to the local authority at the end of five years, meaning they can focus their energies and volunteers on a new area.
Another example is The Snowdrop Project, a Sheffield-based charity that provides long-term support to survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery. Charities like this understand that it is not enough to only intervene at the immediate point of crisis, but that support must continue to assist people in re-building their lives, to thrive, and to be fully contributing members of the societies in which they live.
As is the case every year it has been difficult to narrow down the most deserving charities. To choose this year’s winners, the CSJ team scoured the country to identify the most effective organisations who fight poverty and disadvantage on the frontline. We found charities like One25 and Oasis Community Centre & Gardens who do superb, local work but are small players in the charity world.
Over 40 per cent of applications for this year’s awards came from charities with an annual income of less than £100,000. The organisations we have picked this year help the hardest to reach and who have discovered ways of scaling their work beyond their own neighbourhood. They are truly worthy winners and I look forward to being able to honour their work during our digital awards ceremony this week.
While the headlines may be preoccupied with the Government’s latest decision on Covid, the real work of fighting poverty is often done quietly and without fanfare by those who on the surface may appear unremarkable. These small charities are gradually and slowly empowering people to build a life for themselves free from poverty and the pathways that lead to it. The CSJ Awards allow us to shine a light on their life changing impact, and to show Westminster something we already know – that these charities and the individuals who run them are the true heroes of our times.