Rachel Kirby-Rider: A month after the £750m relief package was announced, we have heard nothing from government

NHS colleagues are urging us to keep services open in order to support them during this challenging time, but we can do so only as long as we are financially able

Rachel Kirby-Rider
Rachel Kirby-Rider

It has been more than a month since the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £750m financial support package for charities. At the time many of us fighting for the survival of our charities breathed a sigh of relief.

Sadly, our initial relief was misplaced. A month on, Clic Sargent and many other struggling charities are yet to receive any information on how to apply for the funding, or if we can even access it.

There is no telephone number to call, no website to apply to and no public information on how the £750m pot for charities can be accessed. In lieu of any information, we’ve been contacting civil servants, had MPs asking questions in parliament and seen front-line staff emailing ministers to explain the reality of their role through this crisis. We have even asked our NHS clinician colleagues to call for government support on our behalf.

But still there are no straight answers. Radio silence. This is the reality behind the headline, and with every day that passes charities struggle to stay afloat.

Another month without support from the government means we have had to take more measures we wish we hadn’t needed to, putting our services more in danger.

The services we provide at Clic Sargent, the UK’s leading cancer charity for children and young people, are not  “nice-to-have” or “cherry-on-top” services. They stop families from losing their homes, getting into crippling debt or not being able to feed their children during cancer treatment.

Our social workers help people manage isolation, the constant anxieties of a crisis and unfortunately, yes, we’re there to support young people with terminal cancer who can’t make the memories they had planned.

Every day our charity supports the NHS on the front line and provides vital services and support to vulnerable and disabled children and young people. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said part of the funding would go to charities “supporting vulnerable children… or disabled people”. We support people in both of these categories, but we still have heard nothing, and neither have any of the other charities with which we work closely.

At Clic Sargent we pride ourselves on transparency. We know we don’t always get it right, but we’ll hold our hands up and learn from it. Our supporters and beneficiaries expect that level of integrity. So it is disappointing that this hasn’t been the approach to this funding.

When will the government be open and transparent about what’s going on? We desperately and urgently need their help and so do the families that we support. We are not asking because we’re a charity and we expect it; we’re asking for the help because young cancer patients need us, now and into the future.

We have seen a 60 per cent drop in income, and have a projected loss this year of £8m. We have furloughed 32 per cent of our staff and reduced the hours of 36 per cent of our critical workers. It isn’t an option to furlough our full workforce. We cannot furlough our social care workers or Homes from Home staff. If we did, children and young people with cancer would be without support and their parents would be unable to stay near the hospitals at which their children are receiving treatment when it’s a considerable distance away.

Our NHS colleagues are urging us to keep our services open in order to support them during this incredibly challenging time. But we can do so only as long as we are financially able to and as long as is safe to do so.

Without a vital injection of funding, Clic Sargent’s future and services remain uncertain. We know that with a decline in referrals during the coronavirus pandemic, as reported by the NHS and the media, many more vulnerable people will need our support more than ever in the coming months. Cancer rates and deaths could be the bigger crisis we face from this period of low diagnosis. If we aren’t there to support them, who will be? That is just unthinkable.

Despite our pressure for answers from the government, we have received no response and we’re still none the wiser about when, or even if we will get support.

We urge the government to consider closely the findings of the report published on 6 May by the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee on the impact of coronavirus on the charity and voluntary sector. The report highlighted a concern for the lack of transparency for accessing the £750m fund and lack of clarity about the eligibility criteria. We share and echo this concern.

The coronavirus crisis is something we have never seen in our lifetimes, and we have seen some incredible examples of society coming together as one. But cancer is quickly becoming the forgotten “C”. We urge the government not to forget young cancer patients. We are fighting to ensure their voices are heard, but we can’t do this alone.

Rachel Kirby Rider is chief executive of Clic Sargent

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