Emily Burt: Hold fast, charity sector – 2024 is set to be another chaotic ride

Since returning from maternity leave I have felt a distinct and troubling shift in the mood

I became the editor of Third Sector just a fortnight before the first Covid-19 lockdown, so I think it’s fair to say, having recently watched Boris Johnson and his cronies give their so-called evidence to the public enquiry, that I have followed the charity sector through a pretty febrile time. 

Three years of watching charities go through incredible achievements and immense challenges has been an extraordinary eye opener. 

But since returning from maternity leave this summer I have felt a distinct and troubling shift in the mood of the sector. 

As we move into the third year of the cost-of-living crisis, hard on the heels of the pandemic, rampant inflation and the rising cost of goods, energy bills and heating, warnings abound of the punishing winter ahead. 

A few weeks ago, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations warned that as many as one in five charities might have to stop work over the winter if conditions fail to improve, and more than a quarter already believe they won’t be able to meet the spiralling demand. 

For what feels like the first time I am seeing charities close. 

The infrastructure body Children England will shut down at the end of this month after 81 years in operation due to “impossible” financial challenges. 

At the beginning of November, about 50 people lost their jobs after the loneliness group The Cares Family announced that “insurmountable” financial issues had caused it to close all branches with immediate effect. 

In the same month, the national housing support charity The Taroe Trust said it would close after making more than 100 unsuccessful funding applications, and the Cornwall Museums Partnership also announced it would wind down its operations in the coming 12 months in a “challenging funding climate”.

These are just a handful of organisations on the rocks; but my sense is that for so many charities that survived the Covid-19 pandemic with agility and by drawing down on their funding and reserves, time and funds are now running out. 

The consequences for the thousands of people around the country who rely on these vital services if they continue to fold are truly grim. 

And with the government recently ignoring the calls of charities to invest in any material measures to support the sector in its Autumn Statement, I can understand why many sector organisations might be feeling exhausted and unable to carry on. 

Forgive my “ghost of Christmas yet to come” gloom – it’s borne out of seeing a sector that I care deeply about in some real trouble. 

But as the year comes to a close, I am nonetheless hanging on to the old adage that nothing is ever over until it’s over. 

We are heading for a 2024 general election, as confirmed by the Prime Minister just this week

Perhaps the result will be a government we can have some hope in. 

If not, there are at least some extraordinary leaders within the sector carrying the torch for both charities and those that rely on them. 

The continued generosity, resilience and humour of people who work in the voluntary and not-for-profit sector, even while working in the most difficult of circumstances, is a source of profound optimism. 

There have also been brilliant examples of charities collaborating and working together to campaign or deliver work that they could not have managed in isolation. And charities are intensely resourceful and creative when it comes to making their limited funding go as far as possible. 

Most of all, despite all the obstacles thrown in their way, charities continue to support the individuals and communities they work with. 

Even as we brace for another chaotic ride in 2024, I know they will find a way through. 

Emily Burt is editor of Third Sector


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