Government has its head in the sand on the sector, says chair of select committee

Ministers have rejected calls from the DCMS committee of MPs for a bespoke job-retention scheme for charities

The government has been accused of taking a “head-in-the-sand” approach to the voluntary sector after ministers rejected recommendations from MPs on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee.

The government has published its response to a report from the committee, which last month called for ministers to set up a bespoke Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for the voluntary sector and to allow furloughed charity workers to volunteer for their organisation. 

The government’s response rules out both recommendations, saying the furlough scheme “is not designed to help charities or other organisations cut the cost of continuing to deliver essential services”.

It reiterates that charities delivering vital services and assisting vulnerable people during the Covid-19 crisis would be eligible to apply for support from the government’s £750m funding package for the sector. 

Responding to concerns from the committee about how funding would be allocated, the government said it had since published guidance on how its £750m emergency support package would be allocated and had provided an additional £150m of support for the sector from dormant bank and building society accounts. 

The government said it was important to “strike the right balance between supporting the sector’s important work and ensuring its ongoing independence and sustainability”.

But commenting on the government’s response, the committee criticised the “lack of clarity about how charities can access the funds that are on offer”. 

It said the government “still doesn’t seem to understand” that charities not directly involved in the coronavirus response needed further support.

Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS Select Committee, said: "The government is taking a head-in-the-sand approach to the plight of charities, struggling for survival against lost income and soaring demands for their services from people hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis.

“Ministers fail to recognise that the charities and voluntary sector present a special case at such a critical time for the country.

“The fact that the government has failed to engage in any meaningful way with wider issues raised by our report, including the lack of clarity about how charities can access the funds that are on offer, is deeply disappointing.” 

Knight also warned that being able to start reopening any shops they operate from today would not be enough to save charities, adding that the sector’s future was “far from secure”.

He said: “Our report made a clear call on the government to urgently review whether its schemes to help businesses really met the needs of charities at risk of closure.

“We also urged backing for a stabilisation fund that would ensure the viability of this sector to provide longer-term support for those in need in the difficult times ahead.”

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