The Voluntary Sector

Tilley, Liz (2006). The Voluntary Sector. In: Welshman, John and Walmsley, Jan eds. Community Care in Perspective: Care, Control and Citizenship. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 219–232.



The voluntary sector has played a key role in shaping the development of policy and services for people with learning disabilities since 1948. The post-war emergence of parents’ organizations such as Mencap helped to initiate a tangible shift in community care focus, moving the emphasis away from a controlling ideology, towards one that placed care and protection at its centre. In more recent years, the growth of advocacy and user groups has been highly influential in shifting the focus once again, this time towards a framework of citizenship, in which people’s right to live as valued and active members of the community is emphasized. However, the voluntary sector in learning disability has been characterized by fragmentation, leading to tensions and dissent. The extent to which this disunity has been damaging to the voluntary sector’s ability to influence learning disability policy and practice remains ambiguous. Recent research undertaken by the author in one local authority indicates that voluntary groups continue to play a key role in orientating debates towards a citizenship agenda, although relations with the statutory authorities remain fluid and at times uncertain, reflecting the historical picture.

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