Age UK is furloughing 70 per cent of its staff with immediate effect despite soaring requests for help from older people, the charity announced today.
Because more than 1,200 members of staff are furloughed, the charity has called on the government to provide urgent financial support to charities affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The vast majority of furloughed staff members – 1,100 employees – normally work in the charity’s retail division of almost 400 shops, which were closed in the light of government guidance.
In a statement, the charity said it had made the decision “with regret” but it was necessary in order to cut costs “following a dramatic loss of income”, including the closure of its shops and the cancellation of the London Marathon and other fundraising events as a result of the pandemic.
At the same time, the charity said, demand for its services had “gone through the roof” as older people, who are more at risk from the virus than most, sought advice, information and practical support.
Steph Harland, chief executive of Age UK, said the charity was determined to step up to help older people facing the enormous threat posed by the virus.
But she added: “As a charity we are facing a perfect storm: older people need us like never before, but our finances have been turned upside down by the lockdown imposed to control the spread of the virus.
“We don't dispute for a minute the need for such drastic action from the government, but ministers do need to understand the enormous impact it is having on charity finances and give us some additional help.
“The tragedy is that just when we should be focusing 110 per cent on helping older people, we are being diverted by the need to manage our way through these treacherous financial waters.
“No one could reasonably have foreseen how some of the mainstays of charitable income have simply been washed away overnight, nor put in place plans to fully mitigate them.”
Harland acknowledged that other charities had also been hit hard by the crisis, and called on the government to listen to the #EveryDayCounts campaign, which was set up by sector umbrella bodies to call for extra government funding to support charities during the pandemic amid concerns about lost fundraising income.
The charity has also launched a Coronavirus Emergency Appeal, asking the public for support to help it keep answering the growing number of calls to its advice line, meet the rising demand for friendship calls from older people and offer practical help to those in acute need.