‘There really is such a thing as society’. That’s what Boris Johnson said in a short video message to the public from Chequers as he convalesced from his serious ill-health at the hands of Covid 19. Times like these show us that this is absolutely true. Whether it is the hundreds of thousands of volunteers the likes of Volunteering Matters, NAVCA, British Red Cross and the RVS are organising; or the millions given by the public to Captain Tom, to the NET or on the #BigNightIn to Comic Relief and Children in Need – there is such a thing as society. A society that encompasses small individual acts and structured, organised and large scale ones.
The question isn’t whether there is such a thing as society but rather what sort of society do we want?
As Johnson took to the Downing Street lectern yesterday morning, to tell us that we were starting to successfully wrestle the virus to the ground it was a question that needed answering. His speech was clearly designed to rally the public behind lockdown measures, to quell the impatience of those wishing to get the economy motoring again and to ensure that we don’t throw away the progress that has been made to date. But there is also a risk that we damage much more than the economy if we fail to convince the Government of the continuing plight of our sector and the people we serve.
It is absolutely right that we look to the future but, like a chameleon, we must also be capable of simultaneously focussing in a different direction; right now and surviving this crisis. Rather depressingly listening to Oliver Dowden’s evidence to the DCMS select committee - you might be forgiven for thinking that major structural stabilisation of the sector had been achieved.
It is far from being ‘job done’.
£750m is a huge, eye-watering sum of money. One which, without the combined efforts of bodies across the sector, we would not have received. One for which the recipient charities should be hugely grateful. But it falls well short of the conservative estimates of loss for the 12 weeks (March-May) of c£4bn. Based on a running total of income from all sources, including from the generous British public through the Big Night In and the 2.6 Challenge, we know that just for the initial 12 weeks we are still over a £1bn short, and the lockdown looks increasingly likely it will extend beyond May. Additionally, schemes, that the Government has generously and rapidly put in place, are not designed for the patchwork of business models and approaches of charities. Our charities are still battling to keep their heads above water so that they might support those they serve. We are #NeverMoreNeeded.
If our representations were solely about preserving jobs we would have to accept that Government has given what it is prepared to give and market forces will do the rest. However, it isn’t about jobs. We cannot accept £750m as job done when we’re talking about society, community, people, life. In contrast, government committed £330 billion for saving the economy versus the £750 million for our sector, which is for public not and not private benefit. Compare the sums that Tesco’s et al have been able to claim in receiving relief worth millions whilst also distributing dividends to their shareholders.
However, it would be unfair, I believe, to say that the Government only cares about business. I believe it cares about the concept of charity. I just do not believe that it has collectively got its mind around what charity really is and what it takes to make charity happen. And that will ultimately damage society. It is prioritising the economy over society and that will be an expensive mistake.
Andy Haldane, Chief Economist to the Bank of England, recently wrote in the Financial Times ‘Pandemics erode the capital on which capitalism is built. They damage the lives and livelihoods of people, depreciating the human capital on which economies and their citizens rely… Yet one source of capital… is bucking these trends: social capital.’ He goes on to talk about the Three Pillars needed for a well-functioning society and the contribution he estimates social action to make to GDP (c10%).
Approached strategically this crisis could provide the stimulus to reshape and rebuild the relationship between the three pillars of society; state, private enterprise and social change. Yet at the very time, social capital should be prioritised we are under-supported.
We know that Government remains unconvinced that the charity sector should be treated any differently to any other ‘industry’. We know that the phrase ‘we cannot save every job’ has been repeated publicly as justification for only partially filling the at least c£4bn hole in the sector’s finances. We know that the Government has viewed the aggregate reserves of the sector as a level of protection against failure (without really knowing where the reserves sit, how they can be applied, whether they are accessible and whether they will actually afford protection where it’s need most).
It would be easy to lose heart at this point in the crisis. We have been battling hard. Weeks of tireless campaigning gave rise to the unprecedented injection of cash into the sector. But the job is not done. We remain united and we will keep fighting with every fibre because we believe in a society where the most vulnerable and marginalised do not shoulder the greatest burden.
We’re asking Government to;
- Recognise that existing measures, including the £750m fund from government, are not enough to enable charities to continue to deliver essential services that have never been more needed. We ask Treasury officials to work with civil society and DCMS to address the medium and long-term scale of the financial challenge ahead, and to ensure that the critical support civil society provides will continue to be able to meet need both in time of crisis and beyond.
- Ensure the distribution of funding available is speedy and efficient, and that equality and human rights are designed in from the outset, so that we meet everyone’s needs and that decision making is transparent.
- Make necessary regulatory changes to existing schemes to make them fit for purpose for civil society organisations.
‘Never let a crisis go to waste’ it is often said. We call on Government to not waste this crisis. There is a chance to build in greater resilience into our communities. A chance to level up. Don’t fail to capitalise on the one resource that is increased in times like these - social capital. Stand by ‘whatever it takes’ and don’t let this crisis go to waste.
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