Fears for charity jobs as quarterly staffing figures fall

But statistics should be interpreted with care, experts warn

The number of people working in charities and voluntary organisations fell by 8,000 in the last quarter of 2008 from an all-time high of 724,000 in the preceding quarter, prompting fears that the recession has triggered a sustained fall.

But some commentators have pointed out that the steady growth in the sector's workforce of the past 10 years has been punctuated by other short-term falls and that more figures were needed before a trend could be discerned.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics, supplied in response to a parliamentary question from Liberal Democrat charities spokeswoman Jenny Willott, show that 716,000 people were working in the sector in the three months to December last year.

"The sector is being increasingly squeezed by the recession," said Willott, the MP for Cardiff Central. "On the one hand, the demand for their services has never been stronger as more people fall out of work and into poverty. On the other hand, sources of income are rapidly drying up, especially from private donations."

Mike Short, a national officer at trade union Unison, said there had been a clear increase in redundancies in the voluntary sector recently. "We've seen lots of front-line care jobs lost as organisations seek to provide the same service for less money," he said. "Lots of charities are restructuring, and this has affected hundreds of Unison members."

The ONS figures also show that the sector workforce had increased by 30 per cent from 550,000 in the first quarter of 1999.

In the decade since then, there have been greater quarterly falls than at the end of last year - in 2003, for example, when there was a fall of 46,000.

Jenny Clark, research manager at the NCVO, said quarterly variations had to be interpreted with care. "Clearly, people are losing their jobs in the sector and we should not be complacent," she said. "At the same time, however, there is also a danger of being alarmist."

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