Just as demand for charities’ services – from mental health to housing and more — are seeing an unprecedented rise amid the coronavirus epidemic, their fundraising opportunities have collapsed.
The voluntary sector is now facing a funding crisis if it does not secure government support soon, with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) estimating that UK charities are set to lose £4.3bn in the next 12 weeks.
While the government has announced unprecedented levels of financial support for businesses, charities and not-for-profit organisations have fallen through the cracks, especially those dealing with local government, social care, mental health, housing, homelessness, advice, community support, and international aid.
Unlike for-profit businesses, many charities have limited cash reserves from which to draw and so face immediate threat of closure.
Last Friday (March 27) cabinet officer Michael Gove said the government would soon announce proposals to support charities.
“We will be doing everything we can to support them, and my colleague Oliver Dowden in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), is looking at a specific fund in order to support charities in the work that they do,” Gove said. “And we’ll be saying more about this in the days to come.”
But with no support yet forthcoming, Unite has joined the NCVO in highlighting the urgency of the situation.
Unite is especially concerned for the tens of thousands of its members who work in the voluntary and not for profit sector who, as frontline workers in the coronavirus epidemic, are risking their lives to help others — while working extremely long hours, often on low pay and on insecure contracts. What’s more, many do not have access to personal protective equipment (PPE).
One Unite rep has raised the particular issues facing domestic violence charities.
“Spending more time at home is catastrophic for those experiencing domestic abuse, and the advice to remain at home is leading to a rise in the incidents of women experiencing domestic violence and coercive control,” the rep said.
“Women’s refuges are already working at capacity, and while the advice to women experiencing domestic abuse is always to reach out to support organisations such as Women’s Aid and Refuge for help, Domestic Violence charities urgently need more funding.”
Unite has also highlighted the fact that charities who are keen to continue helping amid a national crisis cannot avail themselves of the furloughed workers scheme, where the government has agreed to pay 80 per cent of workers’ wages. This is because in order to be eligible for the scheme, furloughed workers cannot work or even volunteer for the organisation that employs them under current arrangements.
In an example of the existential threat now faced by charities, the Childhood Trust published a study on Tuesday (March 31) which found that nearly half of all charities helping vulnerable children in London may be forced to close in the next six months without immediate government support.
The Childhood Trust survey found that large majorities working for these charities reported they believed vulnerable children will go hungry (85 per cent), be neglected (79 per cent) or be at risk of abuse and exploitation (57 per cent) amid the epidemic.
Unite has joined the NCVO in calling for a specific package of government support for the sector, which should include emergency mobilisation funding for frontline charities and volunteers supporting the response to the coronavirus crisis in the UK and globally through grants with a swift application process.
Unite and the NCVO have also called for a ‘stabilisation fund’ for all charities to help them stay afloat, pay staff and continue operating during the course of the pandemic which would be administered through the National Lottery. They also want confirmation that charities should be eligible for similar business interruption measures announced by the chancellor for businesses and access to government rescue schemes.
Unite national officer for the community, youth and not for profit sector Siobhan Endean said, “Our members are keen to play their part in combating the coronavirus which will impact on some of the most vulnerable in society. Demand for charities’ services, from housing to mental health, has greatly increased.
“The voluntary sector is facing a crisis in funding, while meeting an unprecedented demand to support our communities,” she added. “Our members are working incredibly long hours, with a lack of personal protective equipment and under immense pressure.”
“We need urgent action from the government to ensure that the voluntary and not for profit sector and those employed in it are protected amidst the current crisis we find ourselves in.
“That’s why Unite has joined forces with the NCVO to call for a comprehensive financial package to underpin the sector at this extraordinary time.
“Government has rightly identified our members as ‘key workers’ and that’s why chancellor Rishi Sunak must unveil specific measures to assist the sector as a matter of urgency.”
Unite is calling on its members in the voluntary and not-for-profit sector to contact their MPs urging them to support Unite’s call to help charities help others. A template letter to MPs can be found here.