Some charities have been forced to turn people away because of the twin pressure of rising demand for their services caused by the government’s welfare reforms and funding cuts, according to a new report from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
The paper, Welfare Reform: Voices from the Voluntary Sector, is based on a mixture of consultation submissions, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with voluntary sector organisations about the impact of the government’s welfare reforms on charities and beneficiaries.
It says that an increase in demand for services caused by changes introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 came at a time when charities were experiencing government funding cuts of £1.9bn in real terms between 2009/10 and 2012/13.
Charities involved in the research said that case work with beneficiaries had become more complex as a result of the changes and client appointments therefore took longer.
"A minority of organisations have worked with fewer clients as a result of the welfare reforms," the report says. "This is due to each case requiring more time to be resolved.
"For example, charities in the north-west of England reported that it was not unusual to spend two hours on the phone with the Department for Work and Pensions for an individual claimant."
One local advice service partnership is quoted in the report as saying: "All of our agencies are under strain due to the increase in demand. Some have changed their appointment procedures. All are working to full capacity but are still unable to fully meet local needs."
The report says that, despite the pressures on them, voluntary sector organisations "rose to the challenge of meeting increased demand with declining resources by adapting existing services and introducing new ones". It cites examples such as foodbanks offering additional services offered to meet the changing needs of clients.
The report notes that the reforms created additional problems for some service users.
This included vulnerable clients meeting the requirement to apply for a certain number of jobs by applying for roles they were unsuited to, which led to a large number of rejections and a resulting loss of self-esteem and increased anxiety.
The report recommends that voluntary organisations should be involved in the design of future reforms, that they are kept up to date on the latest developments and be invited to share their data and expertise.
Charlotte Ravenscroft, head of policy and public services at the NCVO, said: "Voluntary organisations can play a valuable role in tailoring and joining up service provision – this report shows that they must be more involved."