Government considering package to support sector, Prime Minister says

Boris Johnson says culture secretary Oliver Dowden and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are 'looking at a package of measures to support charities'

Boris Johnson at the dispatch box
Boris Johnson at the dispatch box

The Prime Minister has said the government is considering a “package of measures” to support the voluntary sector as it faces potentially catastrophic falls in income because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Major voluntary sector bodies have been increasing the pressure on the government in recent days to provide urgent financial aid to the sector in the face of an estimated £4.3bn shortfall in income over the next three months.

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, warned yesterday that the sector could be “decimated” if aid was not immediately provided by the government.

During Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons today, Tracy Brabin, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, said charities were in “absolutely dire straits” and referenced a letter, signed by more than 150 cross-party parliamentarians and sent over the weekend, calling for urgent aid.

“Furloughing staff who are providing services to the vulnerable is just not an option,” she said.

“When is the Prime Minister going to come forward with an urgent package of measures so that they can continue their life-saving work?”

Johnson responded by saying that Brabin was “absolutely right to pay tribute to the voluntary sector”.

He said charities were crucial to the national response to the coronavirus crisis and said Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were “looking at a package of measures to support charities as well”.

Major charity umbrella bodies have been urging the government to provide immediate assistance to the voluntary sector and have started a campaign using the hashtag #EveryDayCounts.

Baroness Barran, the Minister for Civil Society, told peers yesterday that the government understood the Covid-19 pandemic presented serious challenges to the sector.

“We are hearing concerns around income disruption, particularly for those charities where the bulk of their money comes from public fundraising, trading or investment income, and they will be hit especially hard,” she told a debate in the House of Lords.

“We are working with partners across government in the sector to gather a picture of the impacts for civil society, including for those working in front-line roles with vulnerable and lonely people.”

She said the government had already taken “many actions”, such as the ability to furlough some staff or offering loans, although she appreciated this was not suitable for all.

“But for some charities demand is up sharply and income is down sharply, and we are working tirelessly and talking every day to the sector about how we bridge that gap,” she said.

Barran said she was in “very close conversation” with Karl Wilding, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

She said: “There are organisations, perhaps more in the arts and heritage, that can mothball staff and then re-emerge, but there are also those where demand is up but income is down, and that is what we are trying to pin down now.”

A spokesman for the NCVO said the umbrella body was in conversation with the government and had stressed the urgency of the situation.

Asked for further details on what the government might be planning, a spokeswoman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said: “Charities and volunteers have an important role to play in helping us tackle the challenges presented by coronavirus across the country.

“We are working very closely with the sector to make sure help is directed where it’s most needed.”

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