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Why government needs to listen #RightNow

As part of the #RightNow campaign on Wednesday 17 February, Caron Bradshaw OBE sets out why it's folly to ignore a potential sector breakdown.


I wrote an article in June last year likening the predicament of the sector to a fleet of emergency vehicles, desperate for the garage on the horizon, but forced to rely on five litre jerry cans of petrol and the generosity and strength of collective shoulders to the bumper to keep us moving.

Whilst the spectre of a more drawn-out and debilitating crisis, brought on by the pandemic, was always looming in the background, I think we all secretly hoped if ‘we could just get over the immediate emergency’ we would be motoring once again.

Our journeys have continued on as a result of the significant help from grant-makers, the government schemes/emergency fund, the public, our volunteers and the skilful mitigations put in place by our teams.

Total breakdown for many has been held off, not eradicated.

Nearly one year on, some are still in a state of emergency and all are dealing with a far deeper and lengthier crisis; which is testing our collectively resources, resolve and ability to keep going now and in the future.

The emergency vehicle in my analogy is not only still suffering uncertainty in fuel supplies (crippling the ability to plan for and respond to need), there are now concerning sounds emitting from under the bonnet, some flashing lights on the dash and a disturbing rattle coming from somewhere too!

#RightNow, there are heroic efforts underway to meet need.

#RightNow, there are Chief Finance Officers and leadership teams who have pulled all the levers at their disposal, who have mitigated the impact of the pandemic and are still facing high residual risk.

#RightNow, there are organisations that could not access the emergency measures and have depleted their reserves to keep on serving.

#RightNow, there is a huge risk that the consequences of this situation will continue to fall on the shoulders of those least able to carry the weight.

From our discussions with our members, we know that the average loss of income in the largest charities will be between 15 and 25%. Yet many of them will, from an accounting position, be able to show a reasonable balance sheet at year end - they might even have an in-year surplus.

This doesn’t mean the problem was overstated.

The financial snapshot will include realised assets, reduced headcount, curtailed or amended service provision and remodelled businesses.

Many smaller charities have seen an increase in support, and in some cases increased funding, to rise to the challenges their beneficiaries encounter and to respond directly or indirectly to Covid-19.

But come the end of that emergency funding they too face a continuing crisis of income generation, strained resources and drained reserves whilst preparing for the onslaught of need and the 12-18 months lag in financial impact we know comes after the economy suffers a shock.

Together with partners ProBono Economics and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, we’ve been charting how the sector is weathering the Covid-19 storm. ITV covered the findings.

In the ITV piece, our minister, Diana Barran, spoke warmly about the sector’s contribution but highlighted the continuing Government position, that it has been generous already in its support. Barran repeated Sunak’s line that ‘not all charities can be saved’.

My heart sinks every time I hear this phrase because it misses the fundamental point. As a sector we are not trying to save the institution of charity. That it not the goal. But lost jobs and collapsing services and organisations equate to cancer patients unsupported, advice not given, hands not held, social change undelivered and need not met.

We are asked to pinpoint and predict what specifically will be lost in the absence of support, before more can be done. I have a continuing sense that the scale and reach of the impact, and the likely duration of suffering, is not appreciated or prioritised by Government.

This whack-a-mole approach is a huge act of false economy. Even if we could produce a pick list of services to save, or people to support, I fear resources would not be forthcoming whilst this narrative remains that it is about us and not the people we serve.

Going back to my analogy, Government is acting like a breakdown recovery service that refuses to dispatch the truck and mechanic until you not only tell them the make and model of the vehicle, and which light is flashing on the dash, but also what the precise cause of the breakdown is, what part is needed and how many other vehicles similar to yours will break down, when, where and the impact of those vehicles being off the road.

Instead, we need Government to act more strategically. To think bigger picture. The overarching claim on their accession to power was of a desire for a more equal society, of levelling up and of social responsibility and action. Whilst charities and social enterprises do not have a monopoly in this, they absolutely are the major players.

We need to be engaged with when we say there are inherent flaws in design which will lead to suffering, not batted away on the grounds of surmountable risk of fraud or exploitation.

We need to be trusted when we say that to require monies to be spent by March is illogical when COVID19 and its effects will continue long after.

We need to be believed when we point out that systems for distribution which only reach those already plugged into it will not address inequality and only serve to deepen it. That schemes designed with business in mind only provide limited support and totally exclude some areas of our sector from it.

We need to be worked with as partners to co-create solutions which, with the best will in the world, will inevitably require funding and cannot be powered by volunteers alone.

Pointing out we need resource and funding should not result in our exclusion. Nor should Government assume that because it’s what we need #RightNow that it is the sole focus of our sector in shaping our relationship with Government in future.

#RightNow, we need help. And like the car owner who cannot tell you what the cause of that disturbing rattle is - if we ignore it and keep motoring on, at some point in the future it will come back to bite us and leave us all paying a far bigger bill.

Join with us in a Day of Action on Wednesday 17 February. Find out more about our new #RightNow campaign and sign our open letter to the prime minister.

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