Charities have stepped up during Covid – so why hasn’t the
Prime Minister matched his warm words with more support?
Every day, a million acts of kindness are distributed across our communities. But this last year the outpouring of generosity has been truly extraordinary as people have reached deep into the needs of their neighbourhoods and served one another.
Behind the scenes, there are precise operations of co-ordination, highly-regulated governance, fundraising, campaigning, and so much more.
Organisations, large and small, need funding to support volunteers, services and the public. However, over the last year, charities have largely been forgotten by government. Following the chancellor’s funding announcement for businesses, he released just £750m for civil society organisations to tide them over for the first lockdown.
Of 168,000 organisations, only 14,000 received any help at all. Some had to wait until February before they received their funding. Unlike other sectors, as the pandemic endured, no further grants were made available. It was government who shut their shops and stopped their fundraising events, funding crucial to the survival of organisations, and yet the minister failed to recognise the need.
The sector believes it will be left with a £10.1bn deficit, with a predicted 60,000 job losses. Many have had to dig into their reserves, sell off land and property while others have closed their doors for good.
The #NeverMoreNeeded campaign was established to show policy makers the scale of the contribution charities made to respond to Covid-19. It is very moving. When the NHS was consumed by the pandemic, patients turned to charities for support and advice. When food poverty soared, it was charities who stepped in to feed people. As isolation and fear gripped, volunteers took to the phones with a friendly call. And as each person faced new and pressing need, it was local organisations that reached out and served.
Some were fortunate to furlough their staff, but many organisations were in great demand, and therefore tried to find more funding. While businesses in high demand saw profits rise, charities in great demand had to do more with less. By the second lockdown charities were really struggling, and since January 2021 things have got even worse.
Thankfully the public, as ever, displayed unparalleled generosity, and charities have reciprocated with gratitude, but much of the infrastructure of the sector has been hollowed out.
Now with the easement of restrictions, the sector has been left in a very fragile place. Charities feel they are emerging into a haze of financial pressure, growing need and feel failed.
For Labour, supporting one another is at the heart of what we believe. The solidarity we show to those who need our help is a part of who we are, while the Conservatives see charity in a more Victorian patrician sense, speaking down to the needy. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who need support, working with them to raise everyone up.
In November, I asked Boris Johnson what he would do to protect the charitable sector which has gone above and beyond over the last year. He promised he would “do much more over the winter to support the voluntary sector”. But there have been no actions to match his warm words. When I challenged him again in March, he talked about government support for business, a completely different issue with different challenges. Last month I once more challenged the government on its failings, but the Prime Minister’s response was equally devoid of meaning.
Civil society organisations can lead the social recovery; indeed they have a unique role to play in bringing people together and extending into places government organisations struggle to reach. Without their leading role, any recovery will result in many being left behind and those surviving at the margins to slip through the net. Boris Johnson’s promise of help was a betrayal. It is time for government to honour its word.
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