94% of the population have benefitted from a charity at some time, either directly or indirectly through friends and family. 1 million food parcels were given out in 2015 – the most ever. But the work of charities is being threatened by a cocktail of issues and many small, local charities have closed in 2016.
When I am not helping on AIRR’s blog I work as freelance support for small charities. Times are changing and I want to share the grave problems facing charities – issues that will ultimately affect us, our friends and our families – and how we can help.
The work of the Voluntary Sector – Charities
So often called the ‘Third Sector’ it just makes me think ‘third rate! I really want to make a point of calling it the Voluntary Sector instead though as it’s not third rate – it is a crucial safety net there for any of us. Also, 12.7 million people in the UK volunteer their time, passion and experience at least once a month and they are the backbone of the sector.
Since 2013 I have worked closely with 10 small, social welfare charities who undertake a range of social work. They provide such a lot of help to communities and are increasingly filling in the growing gaps left by the shrinking of the state – these are just a few of the things these charities do:
- Deliver emotional support for the survivors of sexual assault;
- Provide education for young people on a host of real life issues (e.g. emotional abuse, homelessness and interview skills for opportunity deprived teenagers);
- Mediate between the intractable family relationships that lead to them tearing apart;
- Offer important peer support for people suffering with deep seated mental health issues;
- Provide free, confidential, impartial and independent advice to anyone on any issue;
- Represent the most vulnerable and those at the furthest margins of society at times when they are at risk of losing their foundational needs –homes and income;
- Provide accommodation and support to the homeless so they have an address and new skills which will help them back on their feet;
- Teach women and refugees English and about life in the UK to help them feel welcome and integrate;
- Provide apprenticeships for opportunity deprived young people to give them the experience they need to build a career and a direction in life;
- Communicate the issues facing the people on the ground to the powers that be and campaign for realistic change to the decisions that affect all of us;
- Offer skills, training and experience to those who volunteer within the organisations;
- Build social fabric by using volunteers. Experiencing the real issues facing people is grounding and ensures civil society flourishes and as well as ensuring the sector continues to act as a safety net to many the collective experience, ensures that empathy remains rooted within our society which increasingly demonises the poor.
In the past 3 months I have heard of 5 charity closures in Staffordshire and South Derbyshire alone. Another is seriously threatened and all are struggling to cope with the radically increased demands on their services.
There may be talk at the moment that Theresa May’s government will end commitment to austerity but the impact is only just being felt. Austerity has meant less money to public services such as mental health and housing as well as a reduction in grant funding to charities. Grant funding is so important as not only does it allow the state to deliver help into localities it ensures charities have agreements for a period of time which allows them to plan ahead. Without grant funding charities have to look elsewhere to replace funds and they are having to look to us as individuals more and more as well as to companies. They are also making themselves into the sellers of services with many offering room hire, reprographic services, back office staff and specialist advice. This all takes a lot of time.
– Increased demand for charity services
Cuts to the welfare system have flung millions of people into turmoil and as much as the tabloid media would like to convince us otherwise, the majority of people do want to work and to pursue a better life. Most will never make a fortune though and many have to battle daily with disability or long term health conditions which limit their ability to work. We are also an aging population who is needing additional services for a longer period. The consequence of benefit sanctions, reclassification and private companies managing the assessments have left people in terrible situations and has further increased demand on charity services.
– Commissioning of services
The trend continues whereby councils commission services as opposed to providing grants. Charities are having to fit what they do into the requirements of councils for the cost that they dictate. In many places this has opened the flood gates to private companies competing with the sector and undercutting on price – this can lead to poor quality services delivered by inexperienced organisations who are based at a distance to the people they are supporting. Or charities are delivering services which do not quite fit the needs of those they work with for less money than they actually cost.
– Becoming desensitised to the needs of the poor
The tabloid media and many TV programmes have sought to desensitise the needs of the poor. Over and again a crazy amount of coverage is being given to those who have played the system or who clearly have no desire to work. There are of course people who do this but they equate to less than 1% of benefit claimants. The dwindling coverage of the refugee crisis is also worrying and the idea that some are deserving and some are not takes the discussion away from the real issues – that these are all fellow people who are suffering.
Even if you are reading this from a position of relative comfort I am sure there has been a time where you or someone you love has faced hardship or the worry of potential suffering because of illness, relationship breakdown, loss of job, addiction, bereavement or even an unexpected expense. Ultimately more and more people are coming into contact with charities, either themselves or through friends and family and more of us are being affected by the issues – the poor are increasingly our friends, neighbours or relatives.
– A decline in confidence in charities
There has been a knock on charities owing to a few high profile reported issues in the last couple of years. Situations where fraud has occurred, funds have been taken by charity staff and charities have been seen to be spending too much on staff time have all shaken confidence. This is minimal though in the vastness of the sector, especially against the corruption in other industries. It does not represent the sector as a whole and is not a reason to stop supporting, especially when we continue to buy goods from companies we know are destroying communities, killing us with the ingredients they use, and misappropriating our savings.
Do your research into those that you support. They should be willing to help you with this – they would prefer to have someone who understands the workings of the charity and is then more likely to become a long standing donor.
Brexit is yet to be enacted but it will inevitably have a huge impact. Companies are set to relocate leaving people out of work. European funding will no longer apply to the UK and the vital support from funds such as the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund will be no more.
So, what can we do to support our local charities?
- Regular donations
It is nice to be able to give when you feel like it but a regular donation allows a charity to plan and also to develop services. The larger charities are good at promoting regular giving but smaller, locality based charities cannot afford to do this – check out what is happening in your area. If you have a company you can also give to many charities by offering annual sponsorship or do regular events with employees.
2. Volunteer – do-it.org
Time is as vital as money and the majority of services could not operate without volunteers. There are voluntary positions for everyone – from a once a year planning of an event, to a once a week pick up service for older people or a 3 day a week advisor position…you can help in a way that suits you.
Volunteering is also a great way to meet new people and gain transferable skills. If you have a particular skill or have come from a position of leadership then why not consider becoming a charity Trustee? They are volunteers too but instead of delivering the services they drive the direction and handle overall governance.
3. Attend events
Charity events take a lot of planning and growing experience in the sector means they are getting better and better. Take the Cancer Research Glitz and Glamour evening at Osmaston Park by Ashbourne a couple of weeks ago. They had music, burlesque dancing, butlers in the buff serving bubbly on arrival and a top notch meal all for £40 a ticket. Some friends that went said it was one of the best nights out this year, ‘a real experience with the girls’ and they can’t wait until next year!
4. Take on a challenge
Challenges are extremely popular right now and most of us seem to know someone taking on a run, a walk, a triathlon, or another crazy pursuit. Entering a charity challenge can help you build skills and have an excuse to fulfil personal goals. If you are planning a challenge or have always fancied doing one, do it for a charity as whatever you make is a huge help but the awareness raising element is also of vital importance too.
And don’t worry if you’re not the sporty type you can raise money for many other things too – encourage your children with sponsored silences, attend a YMCA Sleepout or arrange a fancy dress day at your work.
5. Write to your MP
If you hear about a charity struggling and you feel strongly about it tell your MP. They are guided by what we think and the more views on this issue they receive the better. You will also be playing an important role in democracy and as a citizen of a country that believes in supporting it’s people. You can also attend protests and sign petitions.
6. Buy services and goods from charities
With charities increasingly offering goods and services see if you can start checking in on Charity Shops more regularly…could you get some Christmas presents from charity shops maybe? Don’t forget the fantastic online stores via Oxfam or Amnesty International for example. Don’t forget to take your unwanted items to the shops too and to give to food banks.
I’ve stopped buying disposable party plates and buy real ones from the charity shop instead. They usually cost around £2 and I give them back to the shop afterwards.
If you need meeting space ensure you hire a room from a local charity and if you have a business see if any charities are offering services you may buy in from elsewhere – e.g. HR services, accounts services or other back office support.
7. Put a legacy in your will
Legacy giving needs to become a big source of income for charities and especially small, local charities. The Baby Boomer generation is the biggest giver to charities and their legacies will be crucial.
Whatever your age though make sure you put a donation to a charity in your will, if it is not stated in your will your intentions may come to nothing once you are gone.