Cross-party group of MPs calls for urgent funding of voluntary sector

A letter to the Chancellor, organised by the Labour MP Stephen Doughty, says the sector will be vital during the pandemic, but many will soon close without an injection of money

A group of more than 100 MPs and peers from a number of parties has called on the government to provide urgent funds for the voluntary sector in the face of an estimated loss of more than £4bn of income over the next few weeks.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations said on Friday that the sector could lose £4.3bn over the next 12 weeks because of the coronavirus crisis, but the figure could be higher.

A letter sent to Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and coordinated by Stephen Doughty, the Labour and Cooperative MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, calls for “urgent action” to be taken to support the UK voluntary sector.

“Charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises offer crucial support to many parts of our society every day, and in the coming months will be vital in tackling the spread and impact of coronavirus,” the letter says.

It says many charities can help to alleviate the pressure on the NHS and social care services and to provide support to people suffering from the economic and social impact of the pandemic.

“But without an immediate injection of money, many charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises of all sizes will soon close,” it says. “Funds are running out.”

The letter adds that voluntary sector organisations need detailed clarification of where they stand on the mitigation measures announced by the government, including the pledge to pay 80 per cent of wages for employees who are put on furlough because of the pandemic.

The letter, which is mainly supported by Labour MPs, calls for immediate emergency funding for front-line charities and a “stabilisation fund” to be set up that would enable voluntary sector organisations to stay afloat during the crisis.

It also asks the government to work with the UK’s largest philanthropic organisations and foundations and the National Lottery to identify grant funding that could be drawn down early over the coming days.

The letter calls on the government to provide confirmation that all charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises as employers will be eligible for the government scheme to cover 80 per cent of salaries of retained workers.

It also asks for clarification of the position regarding the scheme for different governance models of charities, social enterprises and community interest companies.

Charities have been assessing the potential benefit of that scheme, which was announced by the Chancellor on Friday.

A spokesman for the NCVO said it was positive that charities were mentioned explicitly by Sunak on Friday, but the furlough scheme would not help most of the sector.

“If you need staff to keep working to keep your services running, you can’t use it,” he said.

“We know the government is working on support for charities, but it can’t come soon enough. Many are making decisions right now about whether they need to make redundancies or even shut down.”

Roberta Fusco, director of policy and engagement at the Charity Finance Group, said the latest measures did not offer many reassurances for charities. 
She said the job protection scheme would not help charities that could not put staff on furlough.

“Each day we are hearing from members whose charities are on the brink of collapse, charities that are supporting the most vulnerable people,” she said.

“It’s they who will suffer. Support needs to be swift and it needs to be substantial.”

Front-line charities said they were keen to find out more detail about the scheme.

Angela Williams, director of people at Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People, said the charity was having to make some “extremely difficult decisions” because its ability to raise funds had been significantly affected.

“As a result we will now need to have people not working,” she said. “We are keen to see the full terms of the support offered to see how it can help us.”

Heather Smith, head of fundraising at the Duchenne muscular dystrophy charity Harrison’s Fund, said the scheme “could be a lifeline” for the charity, but it needed details soon.

“We don’t have massive reserves like some of the larger charities and we rely on core fundraising activities for the majority of our income,” she said. “Flagship campaigns and individuals undertaking challenges are a major part of our fundraising strategy.

“Without these taking place, we will really struggle to keep afloat. This government support really does buy us time so that when this is all over we can look at other fundraising avenues and try to find ways to make up that income shortfall.”

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