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Chancellor told to engage charities and avoid Big Society return in autumn statement

17 Nov 2023 News

By borislav15 / Adobe

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has been urged to engage properly with UK charities to tackle the country’s challenges and avoid mimicking David Cameron’s Big Society strategy in his upcoming autumn statement.

Cameron, who returned to government this week as foreign secretary, introduced his Big Society initiative during his time as prime minister from 2010 to 2016.

A new briefing from Pro Bono Economics (PBE) reads that the chancellor has much to gain from recognising the potential of civil society, but “that does not mean tapping up the new foreign secretary for his Big Society playbook”.

The briefing states: “Civil society cannot fill any void the state chooses to leave in the name of fiscal prudence, not least because running hot for such a sustained period of time has left the UK’s charity sector at risk of burning out.

“But resetting the government’s relationship with the sector, drawing it into genuine partnership alongside the private sector too, has to be part of Jeremy Hunt’s vision for recovery and renewal.”

‘Charities have stepped up’

“Charities have stepped up in an especially impressive way over the most recent period of pandemic and cost-of-living crisis,” PBE’s briefing adds.

PBE notes the number of people referred to food banks and charities for emergency support by Citizens Advice has grown rapidly over the last three years.

There were as many people referred in the first seven months of 2023 as in the entirety of 2021, it states.

At the same time, PBE emphasised that the charity sector’s income has declined, while the pandemic “exacerbated the nation’s long-term decline in volunteering participation”, falling from 27% of adults in 2013-14 to 17% in 2020-21.

PBE says the autumn statement is an opportunity for the chancellor to create the conditions for the charity sector to thrive.

“Properly sustained and engaged, the UK charity sector has the potential to do more than mitigate the consequences of the crisis,” its briefing says.

“It might instead support wider national renewal; helping the country break free of the neverending story of stagnation.”

NCVO publishes open letter 

This comes as research published by NCVO shows charities are being forced to subsidise underfunded government public services, with 73% of charities surveyed stating they cannot meet demand for the public services they deliver with the funding they receive.

NCVO’s open letter to the chancellor for charities to sign ahead of the autumn statement calling for increased funding of public services, has reached more than 1,200 signatures.

Sarah Vibert, CEO of NCVO, said: “The government has relied on charities to deliver vital public services for years, but chronic underfunding, rising costs and increased demand for these public services is pushing many charities to crisis point this winter. It is vital that these contracts are properly funded, so charities can focus on continuing to deliver the services people and communities across the country rely on.

“This week the sector has come together to call for urgent change, with more than 1,200 charities adding their voices to an open letter to the chancellor ahead of the autumn statement. We hope their voices are heard, and action is taken next week.”

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