Cost of living rises are creating a cyclical process for those in need, says leading Charity
Veterans Aid remained fully operational throughout the pandemic – but it was a challenge. CEO of the charity, Dr Hugh Milroy, is concerned that the recent staggering hike in utility costs is set to present frontline organisations with even bigger problems – with potentially catastrophic consequences.
The economic scenario being played out as Easter looms is a frightening one. As the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the tsunami of hardship that threatens to engulf families already struggling to make ends meet is set to hit the very organisations best placed to help them.
I speak as one who has already experienced the pressure of keeping a frontline organisation afloat during a period when funding was scarce and many alternative sources of support had simply disappeared. It was not a job for the fainthearted!
Attracting funds within the military charity sector is problematic and time consuming at the best of times; the processes are cumbersome – but sadly, that is the way of it. There is competition, replication and lack of understanding about priorities. What I fear now is that those ‘emergency services’ like Veterans Aid will be pushed to the wall by the cost of simply putting the lights on.
The benevolence approach to funding is now, more than ever, out of synch with the financial speed of modern life. We have seen applications for monetary assistance to the benevolence sector take up to nine months to process. Not ideal for a charity committed to immediate crisis interventions and prevention!
This is in sharp contrast to the support our clients are starting to receive, thanks in part to the Armed Forces Covenant, via the DWP. Within the sector however, the results are a post-code lottery and often the sums granted don’t reflect real life needs. Arcane rules and policies further muddy the waters and there is no standardisation.
The ironic thing is that the sector is wealthy so the question must be asked, what is the money for if not to assist those in direct need?
Recently, we had a call from a serving NCO, seeking assistance to pay off debts he had incurred putting his wife through detox. The welfare ‘system’ was unable to help so he took out all sorts of loans to ensure she had treatment. As his debt escalated he approached his service benevolent sector only to be told that it did not deal with credit card debt.
At Veterans Aid we took up the challenge and helped him move forward by paying off some of the debt. We revisited the benevolent organisation that had turned him down and eventually they offered some help.
Veterans Aid does not have a large contingency fund in place and negotiating non-standard interventions can be both costly and time consuming – but that is the context in which we work. Our services are targeted totally towards client support. We are agile, innovative and adept at managing budgets that allow us to make the occasional unusual expenditure.
But what happens when charities and crisis support organisations like us are pushed over the edge, by the price of staying open? The current cost of living rises – utilities in particular – are creating a cyclical process. It is one in which more people are driven into acute poverty – and all that that brings with it: homelessness, relationship breakdown, addiction, crime, unaddressed health problems and suicide.
We run a residential facility so we have no choice but to pay, but there is no special support for this aspect of our work.
It’s difficult enough to find money to support clients as it is, but how on earth are those of us funding frontline homeless facilities, not just within the military charity sector, meant to continue to provide services that benefit all in society when money meant to address or avert crisis is being diverted to pay utility costs?
I’ve always maintained that doing good is doing right and in this case I am asking that services such as ours, in the frontline of homelessness, be given direct support with utility costs before the spectre of street homelessness becomes overwhelming.
Easter, traditionally a time for celebration, is this year overshadowed by fear. I don’t want us to have to make choices when it comes to saving lives. To me, the pathway we must choose as a society is self-evident and, more importantly, fair. We must care for those who cannot care for themselves.
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