Budget reaction: Charity sector being 'taken for granted' by government

Voluntary sector organisations have criticised the lack of announcements in the Spring Budget to support charities and the people they work with.

The charity leaders body Acevo said the government was “taking the charity sector for granted”, while the Charity Finance Group said the government had “once again failed to recognise the vital role civil society plays”.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, unveiled his Spring Budget before the House of Commons today.

Major announcements affecting the voluntary sector included an extension of the furlough scheme until September; a two-year extension to social investment tax relief; a £150m fund to enable local people to take over community assets; and an additional £300m for the £1.6bn Culture Recovery Fund to help arts and culture organisations bounce back from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

But charity leaders, many of whom had been calling for additional measures to help voluntary sector organisations weather the pandemic, criticised the lack of charity-specific announcements.

Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said: “The government is taking the charity sector for granted.

“Since the first day of the first lockdown the government has relied on charities for help delivering food, medical care, mental health support, and housing support.

“Charities want to be there to do this, but goodwill will not keep the doors open and the services running.

“Today the Chancellor ignored economic evidence, he ignored policy ideas, but, most importantly and disappointingly, he ignored the people that charities work with who most need the government’s support, by leaving them almost completely out of the Budget.”

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the CFG, said the Chancellor had “failed to repair the safety net used by millions of our citizens every day”, despite calls from the sector to do so.

“Deliberate and continued refusal to support social change organisations delivering public benefit leaves our sector precariously balanced on the cliff edge of rising demand and reducing income,” she said.

She argued that if the government was serious about reducing widening inequalities in communities, then it could not continue to ignore social change.

“Today’s Budget is best described as a huge missed opportunity, but it is not too late to address these deficiencies,” said Bradshaw.

“We will keep pressing government to ensure their words lead to positive social change as the economy and society starts to focus on coming out of this crisis.”

Richard Bray, acting chair of the Charity Tax Group, said the lack of targeted support in the Budget for the voluntary sector was "very disappointing".  

Sarah Vibert, interim chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said she was disappointed to see that the call for sector-specific support "has remained unanswered". 

She said: "This is following sector-wide support for the creation of an emergency support fund through the #RightNow campaign and the Prime Minister’s pledge to do 'much more' to support the voluntary sector over the winter."

A spokesperson for the local infrastructure body Navca said the government had chosen to spend billions of pounds in the Budget but would not be providing more help for charities that were “hanging by a financial thread while keeping essential services running for those in need”.

They said: “This is a Budget that only helps charities and voluntary organisations keep their vital work going by luck, rather than by design.

“It’s deeply disappointing that the government's thinking on what constitutes the economy is so narrow. It repeatedly ignores the contribution and value of the voluntary and community sector, particularly at a local level.”

Neil Heslop, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, welcomed announcements such as the extension of the furlough scheme and additional funding for domestic violence programmes and armed forces veterans.

“However, the lack of wider support for the voluntary sector is disappointing while many charities still face challenges of increased demand and constrained fundraising,” he said.

Matt Whittaker, chief executive of the research charity Pro Bono Economics, said: “The Chancellor has taken some extraordinary and welcome steps today to prop up jobs and the economy, but he has made a glaring omission in his lack of support for the charity sector.

“Toy shops, art galleries and cricket clubs will all receive additional emergency funding, but charities supporting the most vulnerable have not had a look-in.

“That’s despite the pandemic prompting an estimated £10bn funding gap for charities and the sector facing record levels of demand.”

He said the Chancellor had “missed the opportunity to support those many thousands of organisations up and down the country doing essential work on mental health, improving the life chances of young people and delivering help to vulnerable groups disproportionately impacted by Covid-19”.

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