Went to a Changing Tunes concert last night. Wow, was it good, and boy, did it reiterate what a mess our prison system is (though I have to say no-one from the organisation was critical of the system per se, it was just apparent in my thoughts afterwards, based on some of the things said and unsaid).

Changing Tunes is a charity that uses music to aid the rehabilitation of prisoners and ex-offenders. That’s how their website puts it. What we saw was a group of fantastic people really touching peoples lives, through sharing their love of music with a group of people many in society want to simply ignore. The staff team of CT played together, along with a few people who have benefited from their work. The standard of music from both staff and ex-offenders was amazing, as are the statistics on re-offending (see the CT website for more on that).

I mentioned “unsaid” things earlier, and here is one of them. This is a charity, run on a tight budget. It reduces re-offending rates significantly. There are similar success stories elsewhere. Yet our prison service still centres around locking people away for years in poor conditions, then disgorging them onto a by-now alien society, and acting surprised when they turn up again fairly soon thereafter having offended again. Isn’t it time we started seriously investing in programmes like Changing Tunes, investing in education in prisons, investing in schemes that help prisoners upon release. Why don’t programmes that show consistently reduced re-offending rates get shouted about from the rooftops and funded to the hilt by the government?

Maybe CT don’t want government funding, requiring that degree of independence (I could well understand that position). Regardless, it just highlights the sorry state of affairs we are in. Prison population is incredibly high, yet we refuse to acknowledge that the system needs radical change if this is ever to change.

Ok, so I may be slow, but I have now worked out my bleating about this government’s approach to the voluntary sector a few weeks ago was quite timely. You see, dear old Mr Brown has just screwed the third sector – again. Tax is down to 20% from next year, whoppee! Oh, except there will be no 10% rate any more, so its only down as long as you are not on a low income. I have heard the income tax changes described as “roughly neutral” by some and a “small increase” by others, either way, it is redistributive taxation rather than a real tax cut. Just the sort of thing you expect from a labour government. Oh, aside from the bit where it favours the better off, and dumps on the working class, but never mind, there’s the good ol’ incomprehensible tax credits system, so we’ll all be OK….

Anyway, I digress. So Gordon has claimed a tax cut while saving a few pennies (very prudent) but hold on a mo, he has actually made a bit more, by reducing charities income. You see the base rate of income tax will drop, and so will the amount charities can reclaim under the Gift Aid scheme. Fair enough you might think, you should only be able to reclaim what has been paid in. Except we are paying the same amount of income tax, or slightly more, yet Gordon is keeping more for the government to fritter away, and leaving less for the voluntary and community sector they are so keen to support (at least when it means cheaper contracts for them than the private sector can offer.)


Time for a more left wing administration, like, erm… just about anyone else….

So, the government’s screwed the third sector again. Yet more overspend on the Olympics, so the lottery will be mined deeper still to make up the short fall. For all the talk of supporting the voluntary and community sector, there never appears to be much action. Or money. Take a look at government grants available. They have a whole website listing them. Only they’re virtually all closed to applications. Recent changes to the lottery opened it up to a wider range of applicants including government bodies, and at the same time “targeted” a lot more of the money, reducing the chance for organisations to bid for projects based on need, rather having to come up with projects that deliver to a particular agenda.

As well as the direct impact on bodies applying to the lottery, this affects those who don’t even want lottery money, as the demand for funding from charitable trusts etc. is in higher demand.

I guess this is all part of the great nanny state thing. We can’t have local people accessing funding for what they need. Far better if central government tells them what’s best.