'Tip of the iceberg'

Hospice care provider Sue Ryder among many charities on verge of collapse

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Unite has reiterated its call for urgent support of the charity sector after it emerged that Sue Ryder, the UK’s biggest network of end of life care, is on the verge of collapse.

The charity, which provides hospice support for 5,000 people at the end of their lives faces an unprecedented crisis, after it reported losing £2m from its investment fund and £400,000 in profits from its 450 retail shops which were forced to close.

The hospice charity also lost £200,000 in fundraising after the London Marathon, which was due to take place on April 26, was cancelled. Sue Ryder was already struggling financially before the coronavirus epidemic, with its income from the NHS falling from 55 per cent in 2012 to just 30 per cent now.

The hospice provider said it is facing a £12m shortfall in fundraising over the next three months which could lead to imminent closure if government support for the charity sector – which was promised by cabinet officer Michael Gove last month – is not forthcoming urgently.

Speaking to the Guardian, Sue Ryder CEO Heidi Travis explained why the hospice provider’s services were so vital at a time of national crisis.

“To close at this time would be crazy,” she said. “We know we ought to be taking patients from NHS trusts. [The people we look after] would have to go back to the NHS, including the hundreds of people being cared for in the community. At this time it would be ridiculous.”

“The country will lose its hospices at a time when they are needed most,” she added. “This is a plea and no less, we cannot wait any longer. Our doctors and nurses are working night and day to provide end of life care to more people, now and in the coming weeks, than ever before. We are a critical frontline support service in the fight against coronavirus yet we are on the brink of closure.”

A frontline worker for Sue Ryder who is a nurse at one of the charity’s hospices, also highlighted the funding threat faced by the organisation which could force it to close.

“We are facing a huge challenge in the next few weeks,” wrote Jacqui Ackroyd in a letter to the Bedford Independent. “All of our shops have closed and nearly all of our fundraising activities have stopped resulting in a massive drop in our income.

“For the very first time we are finding ourselves in the position where we might not be able to afford to continue providing end of life care,” she added. “We are so very proud of the work we do, the expert care we give and the vital support we provide to the NHS, thanks to our generous supporters.”

“It is devastating to think we might not be able to continue. I cannot imagine what our patients would do without us,” Jacqui continued as she pleaded to the public for donations.

Unite national officer for the community, youth and not for profit sector Siobhan Endean reiterated the call for urgent government support as she noted the problems facing Sue Ryder now are being faced by charities across the sector.

“The closure of the Sue Ryder hospices would be a national tragedy, but sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg as charities face an unprecedented funding threat that could see the demise of many more charities,” she said.

“We were expecting the funding package for the sector to be announced last Friday (April 3), but it has been kicked down the road again which is completely unacceptable,” she added. “We called for a comprehensive financial package last week – and now it is time for ministers to hit the accelerator before the UK’s charities face the biggest-ever threat to their future.

“It is a critical time for the sector and the reports that Unite is getting back from our members is that there are likely to be a whole host of these organisations in the same situation as Sue Ryder over the next couple of weeks,” Endean went on to say, noting that for reasons of confidentiality, the union will not name these organisations that it knows are under extreme financial pressure.

She also noted that Sue Ryder urgently needs to access the government’s job retention scheme to save the jobs of its highly skilled workforce and keep the hospices going.

“At this time, the role of hospices for those in the final weeks and days of life is more vital than ever, as well as for their families,” Endean said. “What the government must realise is that charities are woven into the social, caring and community fabric of Britain, painstakingly created over the last two centuries and underpinned by the selfless work of millions of volunteers.

“The UK’s charity sector leads the world in its breadth and scope – and now is the time for government to support this work with a financial package to see charities through the coronavirus emergency.”

Unite last week joined the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (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.

The call came after cabinet officer Michael Gove said on March 27 that a package of support for charities would be announced “in the days to come”. But nearly two weeks later, the government has yet to announce any measures.

Unite has warned that time is running out for the charities and voluntary organisations which are eager to play their part in the coronavirus fight and help some of the most vulnerable in society affected by the pandemic.

You can help by writing to your MP demanding urgent support for charities – you can dowload a template letter here.

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