Clare Periton: Tightening the purse strings - how do we want world-class services to be funded?

The government and society want charities to perform but they must remember that services cost money, argues the chief executive of Helen & Douglas House

Clare Periton
Clare Periton

The last 10 days have been significant for the care sector, and hospices in particular.

Last week was National Hospice Week, and saw activity up and down the country to raise awareness and recognition of the work that hospices do. Additionally, two reports were released which show that end-of-life care is both internationally acclaimed and, at a UK-wide level, ranked as outstanding or good by the Care Quality Commission.

This is cause for celebration in the hospice community, of course, and is fantastic news for anyone who may find themselves or their loved ones in a position where they need to seek palliative and end-of-life care.

I am well aware, of course, that hospices are by no means alone in excelling in their field. The charity sector as a whole consistently provides world-class, specialist support across a range of areas, and increasingly fills the gaps of previously state commissioned services. I look then with interest and some anxiety at the Civil Society Almanac 2015 affirmation that in real terms government funding of charities has fallen by £1.7bn in two years. This has occurred at the same time as funding regulations and practices have been put to intense scrutiny and review, with legislation change appearing imminent.

Both the government and wider society want world-class services. But we must remember that these services cost money. Either the government provides funding, or we ask the public to contribute greater amounts through fundraising. As committed as people are to their jobs and the people they serve (and day in, day out, I witness outstanding commitment to patients at Helen & Douglas House), high-level standards of care cannot be carried out simply for love.

I feel somewhat unclear about the message we are receiving from the big society.

On the one hand, we are congratulated for the services we provide, and on the other we are increasingly underfunded. Like everyone in the charity sector, I welcome reviews to our practices and I absolutely support safeguards to protect from abuse or malpractice and we must ensure that any financial ask is carried out in an ethical and moral way. But I am concerned that all avenues for support could be limited.

I feel immense pride at being part of this sector that provides such a great deal to our society – and indeed provides support overseas to those most in need. As the old adage goes, pride comes before a fall, and we must avoid this fall by using the celebration of our success as an opportunity to consider how we can continue to improve, and continue to serve the British public.

In turn, the British public and government must ask themselves what they want – do they want government funding for services, levied through taxation, or do they want to be asked to support the services they need through fundraising? We want to provide the best services we can, but to do this we need their support.

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