On coming to power in 1997, the New Labour government in the UK promoted a new approach to welfare, which would avoid the excesses of both the state and the market.
This ‘third way’ (Giddens 1998) represented a move from a ‘contract culture to a partnership culture’ and offered new opportunities for voluntary associations. While much attention was focused on their role in the delivery of public services, the ‘third way’ also provided new spaces for voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) to act as vehicles for citizen, community and consumer participation in policy making. This article explores the dimensions and dynamics of the new spaces that have opened up in the wake of these policy shifts, and how voluntary and community organisations have responded to them. It draws on research into engagement by VCOs in policy processes at different levels, in political opportunity structures of varying degrees of openness, and in respect of three key policy fields: pollution (environmental policy area); Better Government for Older People and the establishment of a minimum income for pensioners; the National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal. It begins by sketching out the changing role of the voluntary and community sector (VCS) over time, and focuses in on the changes that have been introduced by the New Labour government. It then asks how open the spaces that have been created for voluntary and community involvement in the policy process are, and to whom they are open.It concludes by asking what prospects they hold for the future and the challenges that VCOs face in making these spaces work for them.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 35.2 (2004) A Sea‐change or a Swamp? New Spaces for Voluntary Sector Engagement in Governance in the UK