Editorial: The bloodbath has begun

Charities across the country are already cutting jobs and considering mergers but there is a lot more pain to come, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Nine hundred debt advice workers at Citizens Advice are given warning of possible redundancy.

All five CABS in Birmingham are to close. The council of voluntary service in Newcastle warns that two-thirds of local charities will run out of money by the end of the year.

These are just one week's stories. Charity lawyers report that, beneath the surface, more mergers, closures and redundancies are being prepared. A survey due out soon will indicate that things are particularly bad among charities working in the criminal justice system. The outlook is grim.

All this is what one member of our Austerity Watch panel meant when he said in December that 2011 was going to be "a bloodbath". There is little doubt that the voluntary sector is entering deepest winter, and another winter will probably have come and gone before the worst is over.

For one story behind the statistics, read the blog by Debra Pattinson on our website in the series Charities on the Front Line. She's the managing director of Healthy Living Wessex, which has a proven track record of improving the wellbeing of people with physical and mental health problems.

But she's just given her staff redundancy notices because cuts have left the organisation with only one contract. Bids for more work won't be decided until staff have gone. Debra's paid for four days, works five, and will soon be paid only for two. Is her story untypical? Almost certainly not.

Which brings us, inevitably, to the big society. Debra thinks the new version of big society is destroying a big society that exists and works well already. An increasingly common view among other charity leaders is that the political rhetoric doesn't match what's happening on the ground.

Meanwhile, Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, says coming programmes such as the Big Society Bank and public service reform will help people understand the agenda, which is alive and well. But it's hard to see how such things will halt the bloodbath in the short term. If it's anything at all, the big society is a long-term project.

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