The voluntary sector must tackle the "enduring and sizeable differences" in the geographic density of charitable organisations across the UK and the challenges faced by charities in deprived areas, the chief executive of the charitable think tank NPC has warned.
Addressing delegates at NPC’s annual conference in London yesterday, Dan Corry drew on government and NPC-analysed data to outline the significant disadvantages faced by charities operating in poorer regions.
He said research showed not only that there were fewer registered charities in deprived areas around the UK and fewer people volunteering, but also that charities in deprived areas were less likely to thrive in the longer term.
A 2018 study, Neighbourhood Context and Enduring Differences in the Density of Charitable Organisations, said that 68 per cent of charities in the most deprived areas of the UK were likely to have survived after 10 years of operation, with this figure falling to 34 per cent after 25 years.
By contrast, charities operating in affluent areas had a survival rate of 82 per cent in 10 years and 56 per cent in the longer term.
"This is not a surprise," said Corry. "You need resources, time and skills, and the ability to benefit from fees, both to form a charity and to keep it sustainable. These resources are less available in deprived areas."
Strategic funding has the potential to make a huge difference to these survival rates, he said. But he cautioned that, historically, government-targeted funding to help the most deprived areas relied on funding models that were often short-term.
"In the past 10 years we have seen a lot of time-limited funding," he said. "Just giving these organisations a bit of money to get going and then saying ‘good luck, guys’ is not sustainable."
Other areas of government funding, particularly Gift Aid, further skewed things in favour of more affluent regions, Corry said.
Data for 2019 from the Charity Tax Commission, set up by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, revealed that a larger proportion of charities in southern regions were making – and benefiting from – Gift Aid claims than in other regions.
In the 2013/14 financial year, according to the data, Gift Aid formed 6.6 per cent of charities’ total income in south-west England, compared with just 1.4 per cent in Wales and 1.8 per cent in Scotland.
The consequences of this combination of factors should be of significant concern to the sector, said Corry.
"Many of these places already have fewer jobs, lower pay, poorer housing and transport, and fewer charities to help support and engage their communities," he said.
In order to drive positive change, he added, the sector required more data on funding, including information on where government grants and taxes were being spent, and pressure on independent funders to be transparent about how their money was allocated geographically.
Charities also had a responsibility to advocate for long-term funding streams in deprived areas and should advocate for any new funding streams announced by the government to be fairly balanced against social distribution, Corry said.
"There is a pressing need to ensure funding gives social factors a strong weight when it comes to distribution and use," he said. "Bigger charities in particular need to think about what they can do to support this."
Corry concluded that the third sector had a responsibility to improve the impact of charities wherever it existed and should be prepared to act on it.
"The research shows that some deprived areas in the UK are not just left behind but totally forgotten," he said.
"We should all agree that it’s not enough to say you don’t receive many grant or funding applications from poorer areas. You can try to get out of the office and do something about that."