Research Report 78, May 2012
From crisis to mixed picture to phoney war: tracing third sector discourse in the 2008/9 recession
The recession of 2008/09 threatened a crisis for the third sector and its beneficiaries. Amidst mounting concern for the sector’s future, national and horizontal infrastructure and government worked together to minimise the potential impacts.
This research report, based on media scoping, literature review and key informant interviews, explores the evolving third sector policy environment, discourses and relationships during this period. It outlines the shift from the initial rhetoric of crisis to a ‘mixed picture’ discourse, which accommodated a lack of evidence about the impact of the recession. Despite the lack of data, national infrastructure were able to form a partnership with the government of the time which focused on supporting the sector in a time of need. However, the diversity of sector interests suggests vertical and local channels of communication between government and the sector are also important.
Finally, the paper traces how sector leaders talked about the recession having lagged effects or being a phoney war. They looked with trepidation to the ‘real crisis’ predicted to hit the sector in 2010/11: a period of financial uncertainty brought about by the convergence of the spending review, the end of several large public sector contracts and the impending general election.
The impact of the recession on the sector has turned out to be on-going, extending well beyond the initial crisis. But it is being played out in a very different political context, characterised by deep public spending cuts, a downsized OCS, and changing relationships. Our research on the 2008-9 recession provides a historical marker against which we can explore some of these changes. The current hard times for the sector are different to those in 2009, and it will be interesting to see how the sector is able to influence government and mobilise support in this new political and economic landscape.
Rebecca Taylor, Jane Parry and Pete Alcock