“The good, the bad and the ugly,” said one membership body as voluntary sector organisations reacted to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s 2021 Autumn Budget.
Sector leaders, charities, unions and the shadow civil society minister gave a mixed response to the budget, and warned that missing elements will “spell bad news for millions”.
Sunak’s statement included the announcement of more than £2.6bn for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and £850m in spending to protect museums, galleries, libraries, and local culture in England.
He also announced £11bn in Overseas Development Assistance and an extension of the Recovery Loan Scheme until the end of June next year.
Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, said: "The budget could be described as the good, the bad and the ugly.”
She welcomed business rates relief and investment in skills, education and youth services, but added: “It's what’s missing from the budget that spells bad news for millions.”
Maddy Desforges, chief executive of Navca, said she looked forward to more detail, in particular for investment in social infrastructure alongside hard infrastructure.
But Dan Corry, chief executive of the think tank NPC, expressed disappointment that the first round of Levelling Up funding would not go on tackling social needs or make the most of the sector’s strengths.
He added: “The limited information on the long-awaited UK Shared Prosperity Fund will also be a disappointment.”
Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Locality, said the Chancellor’s style reinforced a “business as usual approach”, and pointed out that the Treasury’s control over the Levelling Up Fund was the wrong way to maximise local potential.
And according to Sam Mercadante, policy and insight manager at the NCVO: “The announcements will not be enough to support charities and communities to recover from the pandemic and build a stronger society.”
The announcement that £11bn would be spent on Overseas Development Assistance received a lukewarm reception, with Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, accusing the government of “accountancy trickery” that would include payment for excess vaccine doses and debt relief, and “balance the books on the backs of the poorest”.
Neil Heslop, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, warned: “The Chancellor’s pledge to return to the 0.7 per cent foreign aid spending commitment by the end of this Parliament will not alleviate the drastic shortfalls facing charities working across the world today.”
The levelling up question
The extension of the Recovery Loan Scheme was welcomed by Stephen Muers, chief executive of Big Society Capital, but the chief executive of Power to Change, Vidhya Alakeson, was “disappointed that there is no mention of the Community Renewal Fund, which would have provided day-to-day funding for vital community services”.
Paul Streets, chief executive of Lloyds Bank Foundation, similarly reiterated the key role played by small charities during the pandemic and warned that achieving the ambitions of levelling up will need their input.
And Edel Harris, chief executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said the budget felt like another “missed opportunity” to ‘level up’ social care.
Oxfam’s head of advocacy, Katy Chakrabortty, agreed. "We welcome the Chancellor’s decision to raise the National Living Wage and reduce the taper rate of Universal Credit, but this will not support those not working and unable to work, who will still be considerably worse off,” she said.
Housing and homelessness charity Shelter flagged ongoing concerns that housing costs remain among the biggest worries for most families.
The charity’s chief executive, Polly Neate, said: “With no plan and no new money to build enough truly affordable social homes, thousands of families will remain caught in a relentless struggle to keep a roof over their heads.”
And the national secretary of the union Community, Adrian Axtell, said the announcements fell far short of what was needed.
Labour’s shadow civil society minister, Rachael Maskell, said: “The Chancellor failed to mention charities once in today’s Budget, despite the important role they have played over the past 18 months.
"The bleak forecast set out in his budget and the looming cost of living crisis will place even greater demand on charities over the coming months as they will be called to pick up the pieces from today’s announcements.”