Coronavirus: Government urged to include charities in £330bn aid package

Sector umbrella bodies are calling for charities to be explicitly included in economic measures set out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 has killed at least 71 people in the UK at time of writing, and the numbers of cases and deaths are both expected to rise significantly in the weeks and months ahead.

Last night, Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out a series of measures including a £330bn loan system for all businesses to get through the pandemic and business rates holidays for the retail and leisure industries after the decision to socially isolate the UK population.

Third Sector understands that representatives from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will meet Treasury officials later today to discuss the new measures and their implications for the charity sector.

The Charity Retail Association wrote to the Chancellor yesterday to ask for measures to help charity shops, pointing out that customers and volunteers were abandoning them during the pandemic. 

The CRA said that, as a result, a number of charity shops were closing or reducing their opening hours.

Robin Osterley, chief executive of the CRA, told Third Sector that many charities were “staring down the barrel of a gun” and facing closures, and that it was vital the government confirmed that charities could apply for the funds available and they would be made immediately available.

“It depends on how quickly these measures of support can be applied to charity shops, otherwise charities will have to make some very uncomfortable decisions very quickly, some of which they might struggle to reverse when things improve.”

Sarah Vibert, public policy director at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: “We're continuing a fast-moving and constructive discussion with the government on a package of financial support aimed specifically at the sector. 

“We'll also ensure there is clarity from the government on how other support measures apply to charities as soon as possible.

“All of the NCVO's effort has been refocused on the current crisis. Making sure charities get the help they need from the government to get through this is an absolutely core part of our work on behalf of the sector.”

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, said the government needed to recognise the value of the charity sector in communities across the country and include them in the Treasury’s economic measures. 

“Our message to the Chancellor this morning is unequivocal: it’s not just business that needs urgent fiscal support," she said. "Since the crisis began, we’ve seen increased demand for services that are already stretched to the limits, overnight collapse in income for many charities and future operations under extreme pressure.

“Our sector is here for the public good, to serve the most vulnerable in our society, not private interest, and we need the government to step up now to avoid what could amount to a catastrophe for the social sector.”

Matt Hyde, chief executive of the Scouts, said on Twitter that it was critical the government announced an emergency package of support for the voluntary sector. 

“The coronavirus crisis is affecting small, medium and large charities when they are most needed as a result of significant reductions in fundraising and trading,” he said.

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