A Labour government would create a “society of service” and embrace the charities and civic institutions on which the Conservatives are “waging a war”, Sir Keir Starmer will say.
In a major speech on his vision for the voluntary sector, the Labour leader will accuse the Tories of presiding over a “poor society” that has left charities supporting struggling Britons stretched beyond their limits.
Addressing the Civil Society Summit in central London on Monday, Sir Keir is expected to say that as prime minister, he would bring “a new focus on those who build the bonds that connect us, the communities that nurture us, the institutions that support families and provide a bridge between the state and the market”.
He will add: “In a society of service, doing the right thing will be rewarded. Working hard will pay off for people. And building caring, compassionate communities will make our country stronger, more prosperous, fairer for everyone.”
He will tell an audience of faith, charity and community leaders they are “the glue that bridge the gaps” in a social fabric that has become “frayed”.
A thriving civil society is essential to Labour’s five missions for government, including getting the “economy back on track,” he will say.
“We want to harness civil society as one of the three key engines for renewal working alongside the public and private sectors.”
Sir Keir, whose party is riding high in opinion polls, will criticise Rishi Sunak’s Government for “sabotaging civil society to save their own skins”.
The Tories’ rhetoric has “helped demonise” the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and demeaned the work of the National Trust, the Labour leader will say, adding: “That’s what happens when politics of self-preservation prevail over commitment to service”.
Sir Keir will say: “The Tory Party is trying to find woke agendas in the very civic institutions they once regarded with respect.
“Let me tell you, waging a war on the proud spirit of service in this country isn’t leadership. It’s desperate. It’s divisive. It’s damaging.”
Sir Keir will also argue that individualism has “run rampant” under successive Conservative governments.
Former prime minister David Cameron “talked about the ‘big society'” more than a decade ago, but “when austerity kicked in we ended up with the ‘poor society'”, Sir Keir will say.
We are pleased to announce the Labour and Civil Society Summit, featuring a fantastic line-up of leaders from the Labour Party and civil society, such as @wesstreeting, @rubina1402, @AkikoMHart, Joel Davis & @bphillipsonMP.
— Pro Bono Economics (@ProBonoEcon) January 10, 2024
His speech marks the first time since then that a major party leader has outlined a vision for the sector, according to the charity behind the summit.
Pro Bono Economics chief executive Matt Whittaker said: “Keir Starmer’s speech today is the first time a political leader in the UK has set out a strategic vision for how the sector can serve as a partner to government since David Cameron’s ‘big society’ concept in 2010.
“Since then, the sector has changed enormously and now has a workforce totalling just shy of one million.
“While it has grown in size and become ever more vital to supporting the most vulnerable in society, the charity sector has had to deal with £1.7 billion less government funding in real terms and four million fewer volunteers over the same period.
“Charities sit at the centre of everything the nation aspires to – from the health of the economy to the quality of life we enjoy. It is vital then that the government which comes to power following the next general election does what it can to help the sector unleash its full potential.”
Sir Keir will be joined at the event by more than a dozen shadow ministers, including Wes Streeting, Yvette Cooper and Bridget Phillipson.
Later in the week, the Labour leader will be touring the country to talk to people about his plan to make Britain’s streets safe.
Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden said: “Once again Labour are sniping from the sidelines without putting forward any serious plan. Keir Starmer cannot say what he would do differently because he has no plan.”