According to weekly research conducted by the charity Pro Bono Economics, UK charities are expecting to endure a funding shortfall of just over £10bn over the next six months as a result of the coronavirus. Income is predicted to fall by £6.7bn at the same time as demand for services rises by the equivalent of £3.4bn.
Around one in 10 charities expect to go out of business, and small charities, with incomes below £500,000 a year, are especially at risk.
Of the 261 organisations which took part in the tracker on 9 and 10 June, 42% said that they have applied for emergency funding from the government’s support package and two-thirds said they had furloughed staff.
Specific sectors have been highlighting their own cause as particularly desperate. Ten disability charities, including Scope, Mind, Sense and Mencap, say they collectively stand to lose up to £75m this year, and have criticised the government for allowing disabled people “to fall through the cracks”. They say the funding available is nowhere near enough to match demand for services, and that those with physical disabilities are being overlooked.
A number of household-name charities are planning for job cuts: RSPCA is expecting 300 redundancies; more than 200 jobs are under threat at Oxfam GB; and Breast Cancer Now is consulting on making a fifth of its 300 staff redundant. The latter’s chief executive, Delyth Morgan, described Covid-19 as the “greatest threat the cancer charity sector has ever faced”.
Matt Whittaker, chief executive of Pro Bono Economics, said: “Many organisations, both small and large, say they are in grave danger of falling through the cracks and that their long-term survival is at threat. Smaller charities feel that financial support is only being channelled to larger organisations, while larger charities say that there is a disproportionate – if understandable – focus on frontline services dealing directly with the Covid-19 crisis.
“It is clear that, if we want the sector to survive and to continue to make a vital contribution to society, these organisations need more financial support – and they need it now.”
In this extended news analysis, we look at three subsectors – domestic abuse, homelessness and criminal justice – to see how they are faring in the crisis and how far the government’s response has helped.
The lockdown measures have had no end of unintended consequences, but few have been more worrying than the reported spike in domestic violence across the UK. In the first few weeks after people were told to stay at home, calls to Refuge’s national domestic abuse helpline rocketed by 66%, while visits to its website increased tenfold. At the end of April, Women’s Aid doubled the hours that its live-chat service was available, after demand rose by 41%. In London, the Met Police have been making about 100 arrests a day for domestic abuse-related offences, with the numbers of charges and cautions up 24% compared with the same period last year.
Like many other charities, organisations working in the violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector were forced to completely remodel their service provision to comply with social distancing and lockdown rules. Imkaan, an umbrella body supporting BAME organisations in the VAWG sector, reported that this included setting up structures and support measures for home working, buying technology for staff and service users, moving services online or via phone, and adapting health and safety and risk assessment policies to take account of Covid-19. Another study by SafeLives found that many VAWG charities were also having to deal with high proportions of staff absence because they were affected by Covid or looking after their children while schools were closed.
So on the face of it, the announcement from housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick on 2 May of a package of funding for domestic abuse charities was welcome relief. From the total £360m allocated directly by government departments to approved charities that they already had relationships with, £76m would be targeted at “survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and more safe spaces and accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse and their children”. A casual observer might assume that women’s organisations would do rather well out of this programme.
However, some departments had more success with their bids to the Treasury than others, and on closer inspection it seemed unlikely that all £76m would be awarded to charities that specialise in supporting survivors of violence against women and girls.
The Ministry of Justice was the biggest winner, awarded £25m to hand out to charities helping victims of abuse to access emergency support services, plus £3m to recruit and train sexual violence advisers. The Department for Education received £26.4m to help vulnerable children in England, including funding for ChildLine. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), which funds refuges, generally the most expensive services in the sector, was allocated £10m for safe accommodation places throughout England. And the Home Office, which tends to fund less expensive services such as helplines and sector infrastructure, was given £3.8m to share between domestic abuse services and modern slavery charities, plus £7.8m for organisations supporting children at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation.
Other charities operating in the violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector that didn’t qualify for this departmental allocation may have been eligible to apply to the £200m Coronavirus Community Support Fund being managed by the National Lottery Community Fund, or the £20m small grants fund being administered by the National Emergencies Trust, that made up most of the remainder of the government’s £750m coronavirus support package for charities. But they will have been competing with charities across the spectrum that provide Covid-related services for vulnerable people, and demand for these funding pots was widely expected to be through the roof – the lottery funder wouldn’t say how many bids it received but did say it was a “record number”.
Funding process ‘ridiculous’
And, while the additional funding will undoubtedly be welcomed by those VAWG organisations lucky enough to receive it, there is still little transparency over who they might be. The process for charities to access the money was also far from ideal, according to those close to it. Several women’s groups signed a letter to charities minister Baroness Barran on the bank holiday on Friday 8 May, complaining about the four working days charities were given to apply for the MHCLG funding for refuges.
The letter from Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC), said: “The coronavirus pandemic is stretching refuges to breaking point. WRC research across 300 women’s charities has revealed that almost 70% are worried about surviving the crisis.
“We are gravely concerned that this seven-day turnaround for applications will favour larger charities and exclude the small but vital refuge providers and further compound the exclusion of BME specialist charities, who according to recent research by Ubele are the most likely to close over the coming months.”
The letter had an impact: the deadline for applications was immediately extended by a week, but Hayes contends that the episode was symptomatic of the lack of coordination in the government’s approach to supporting charities through the crisis.
“They couldn’t have designed a more ridiculous process if they’d tried. I mean, making different departments compete for the funding – where’s the joined-up thinking?”
No ringfencing for women’s groups
Speaking to G&L, Hayes also bemoaned the lack of ringfencing for specialist women’s organisations, worrying that much of the funding will be awarded to large generic social care charities that don’t have the same understanding of the beneficiaries.
“There was an assumption by someone I was speaking to at the lottery that the whole £76m would come to the women’s sector, but that is absolutely not a given because a whole lot of generic organisations have now moved into provision of services in our sector and they will be able to apply for that money as well. And that’s problematic because it was the women’s sector that has driven this work over the last 50 years – the generic organisations only got on board when money started to become available but they don’t have the analysis or the expertise to do this work.
“This money is not ringfenced for the women’s sector in any way, shape or form. The women’s sector as a whole has been underfunded for decades, and black and minoritised women’s organisations have been even further underfunded. If you look at things like the Tampon Tax fund, that was originally pledged by George Osborne for women’s health and support charities – last year only one of the 10 grants went to a women’s organisation.
“And also, for our sector, where is the thinking about how to sustain us in the future? Our members are already telling us that they’re equally worried about what’s going to happen next, because this is just emergency funding and the impact of this crisis is not going to be over in a couple of months. What will happen then? If we believe what the economists are saying, we’re heading into a depression, and we all know who will suffer the most – women and children and those already living in poverty.”
Micro charities most at risk
Hayes says the WRC is especially worried about its smallest members, micro-organisations with incomes of less than £100,000, because they don’t have the ear of decision-makers and are least likely to have reserves. But the chronic underfunding of the whole women’s sector over so long, coupled with the ongoing uncertainty caused by the Covid crisis, has increased fears throughout the whole sector and thrown its precariousness into sharp relief.
“Over the last 10 years, the impact of austerity has been particularly and disproportionately devastating for women,” says Hayes. “It’s time to address this awful discrimination in policymaking that we see.
“We have an opportunity to really push the government now, because everybody knows that this crisis has exposed and exacerbated structural inequalities across the country. The government can’t ignore these any more.
“We want to see a whole different settlement from government with our sector,” she concluded. “We need a shift in the relationship, where we’re not treated as adversaries but as experts who can get the money to where it’s needed. It’s about valuing the work that we do and adequately resourcing it.”
The chief executive of Clinks, the umbrella body for organisations working in criminal justice, has voiced concerns that the government’s allocation of emergency funding for the sector sends the message that some people in society are more deserving of help and support than others.
Speaking to G&L just before the National Lottery Community Fund opened the £200m Coronavirus Community Support Fund on behalf of the government on 22 May, Anne Fox said the government’s response to the sector’s call for help to deal with the crisis seemed to draw a line between “deserving and undeserving beneficiaries”.
Fox said that the Ministry of Justice put in a bid for £240,000 of the £360m fund that was being allocated by the Treasury to other government departments, with a view to handing this money to Clinks to distribute among criminal justice organisations (CJOs). But the bid was rejected.
In the end, the money was provided to Clinks by HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS), and the umbrella body opened a £275,000 fund for applications on 18 May. This was heavily oversubscribed; 121 bids were received totalling just over £1m.
But Fox said she was disappointed that central government had failed to recognise the need in the criminal justice sector.
“If you look at the money that’s gone out, to hospices, domestic abuse charities, access to justice, family justice organisations – that’s all brilliant and we’re delighted that these services for victims and witnesses will receive funding.
“But none of that is for services for people who have committed an offence.
“Our sector provides vital support to some of the most vulnerable in society, and it is frustrating and disheartening not to see this work and the needs of the sector’s beneficiaries recognised across government beyond HMPPS and the MoJ.
“We are concerned that there may be a message coming out that certain people are more deserving of support than others.”
However, after the £200m fund opened for applications, Fox conceded that CJOs appeared to qualify within the eligibility criteria, though she added: “The demand versus supply of money will be interesting to see.”
Clinks was preparing to survey its members again in early July to enquire which of the emergency statutory funds they had applied to, and whether those applications have been successful.
The sector did receive a boost in June when the MoJ announced that it was bringing probation services in England back in-house from June 2021, and would be making over £100m a year available to charities and private providers to run education, employment, addiction and accommodation services.
Prisons locked down for longer
But in the meantime, Fox feels certain that there is a need for something that fits the criminal justice sector better than the current emergency support packages do.
“One of the main reasons for that is that our situation will be more prolonged than others, because prisons will be locked down for longer,” she explains.
“Prisons have a similarly high level of risk to care homes. Public Health England has done a lot of modelling and it was projected that without containment measures, prisons would see 2,500 to 3,000 people die. So there is a new model in place in our prisons and it’s very extreme… effectively people in prison are now in their cells for 23 hours a day, and prisons are locked down to anyone other than staff and essential services.
“There’s no voluntary sector going in, no family visits, no purposeful activity, no education or employment. And those restrictions will be lifted gradually – it’s possible that criminal justice charities might not be able to get into prisons for a year.”
Charities that work outside of prisons, such as with people on probation or those serving community orders, have been able to move their services online up to a point, but many service users don’t have the necessary devices to enable them to participate in online activity. Therefore, a lot of the grant applications coming in to the Covid response fund from CJOs are for the purchase of laptops and tablets for beneficiaries.
The longer-term worry is that issues will accumulate that will increase demand for CJOs’ services after the crisis has passed. Explains Fox: “In our sector, people will get into more debt and they will go longer without mental health treatment, for example, which will just compound problems further down the line.”
Fox chairs a standing advisory group to the MoJ known as RR3, which is comprised of voluntary sector leaders from the criminal justice sector and reports to Lucy Frazer, minister for prisons and probation, and Jo Farrar, chief executive of HMPPS. In March, a new RR3 Covid-19 special interest group was set up and has been meeting weekly. The group was asked by the department to investigate what the concerns were around sustainability in the sector and why there had been such low take-up of the government support packages.
Fox says it’s a very mixed picture on future prospects for CJOs. The vast majority of funding for the sector comes from government in the form of contracts, so some organisations that rely on this income have been able to redirect staff to new priorities and haven’t been too badly impacted.
But this is heavily dependent on the quality of the contract, Fox adds. Contracts for substance misuse services, for example, tend to be better funded, whereas criminal justice-specific services such as prison family services tend to require a high level of subsidisation from trading income raised by the charities. And that trading income has in most cases been cut off by the lockdown restrictions.
The second highest source of revenue for the sector is trust funding, and CJOs relying mainly on that have been largely all right up to now because funders have responded swiftly, Fox says. But the worry is about grant levels not being maintained going forward, as emergency funds are depleted and a longer-term economic squeeze sets in.
“I’ve already got members telling me that they’re expecting to be out of business in two years’ time because in criminal justice we have a smaller group of funders anyway, and the pipelines are drying up.”
While most arts organisations working in the sector have made use of the furlough scheme, most of Clinks’ members couldn’t because they needed staff to be working.
“Our members told us that most of the government support was largely irrelevant because it is designed to address issues of business interruption, whereas they were facing higher demand,” says Fox. “The bigger issue for them is the inconsistent approach from commissioners. They might have additional costs, like PPE [personal protective equipment] for their staff or technology costs to move services online, and while some commissioners are giving an extra 10% on contracts to meet these costs, others aren’t.”
Another barrier cited particularly by smaller organisations was the lack of trust that they will actually get any support from the government. “Small organisations spend an awful lot of time doing bids, and almost never get them,” says Fox. “So they just don’t have any trust that they will actually get this money from the government. Unless there’s an actual entitlement then if there’s any judgment to be made, they generally do quite badly out of that.”
The government is “determined and committed” to ensure that there is no return to mass rough sleeping after the Coronavirus crisis passes, a government adviser and former charity chief executive has pledged.
Jeremy Swain, who was chief executive of Thames Reach for 19 years before joining the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as deputy director for rough sleeping and homelessness delivery in 2018, was the guest speaker at a Homeless Link webinar on 20 May.
Swain is now a senior adviser at MHCLG, working closely with Dame Louise Casey on the new taskforce which is advising government on how to support rough sleepers during and after the pandemic.
The government responded swiftly to protect rough sleepers at the start of the lockdown, allocating £3.2m in March to help local authorities provide safe accommodation in hotels. The government claims that thanks to the efforts of councils and charities across the country, over 90% of rough sleepers known to local authorities were offered beds and nearly 15,000 people across England have been given emergency shelter.
Swain told the digital audience that the response was a “fantastic achievement”, and that in all his years in the sector he had never seen such low numbers of homeless people on the streets in London.
He added that the level of infection among people who have been sheltered was “mercifully low”. A 62-bed hotel in Newham, east London, was earmarked for people who were Covid-symptomatic and infected. At no time did the Newham hotel have more than 18 people in it, Swain said.
He paid special tribute to The Big Issue, recalling a conversation he had with its co-founder John Bird as lockdown began, where he urged Bird to encourage all Big Issue vendors to come in off the streets even though they had a print run coming up.
“To The Big Issue’s credit, they took all the vendors off the streets within 24 hours,” Swain said. “That was one example where people were prepared to put human beings first. I was deeply impressed by that, and immediately took out my three-month subscription to The Big Issue.”
As well launching an urgent appeal asking the public to donate or subscribe while vendors were unable to sell the magazine, The Big Issue Group also launched an app and secured listings in major magazine retailers including WHSmith. The Times newspaper chose The Big Issue Foundation to benefit from a reader appeal.
Around 2,000 Big Issue vendors were planning to return to the streets from 6 July once lockdown restrictions were eased, wearing personal protective equipment and sporting contactless card readers.
Data collection and next steps
Swain said that once people had been safely brought in off the streets, the second stage of the pandemic response was to determine what help and support they needed.
“An important part of what we’ve been doing is getting the data about who is in the accommodation, because without knowing who those people are and what their needs are, we can’t help them with the next steps. And let me tell you, when you triage 165 people over from Heathrow Airport who have been sleeping rough there for many weeks and years, into different hotels, there’s a lot to find out about them.
“The third phase we’re moving onto now is what we’re calling “next steps and recovery”. Working with you, we will do our utmost to make sure that now people are in emergency accommodation across the country, nobody need go back onto the street.
“We have the most amazing opportunity to end mass rough sleeping, which I think is absolutely achievable now.”
Rough sleeping taskforce
The new taskforce chaired by Louise Casey would be central to achieving this objective, Swain said. But when he was asked by Homeless Link CEO Rick Henderson to explain who was on the taskforce and what its terms of reference were, he couldn’t offer much detail.
“This isn’t going to be a group of people that are named people,” he said. “It’s a means by which Louise has got a row of people working with her – civil servants, me included – and the taskforce includes, in a sense, everybody. Because this next step is about galvanising wider society to achieve the outcomes that we want.”
He said the taskforce would bring together a “broad collaboration” of central and local government, business, social investors, the voluntary sector and the public to “leverage resources to unlock the problems” that force people into homelessness.
“Broadly speaking, we want to have as many accommodation options as possible to bring people in off the streets, and that means a whole range of options – not just social housing, though that may be a part of it.” A key strand would be helping people into jobs, he said. “In that sense, anybody who wants to work with us and make a contribution, they become part of the taskforce.”
Henderson responded that his members were worrying that without clear guidance from central government and new funding, they wouldn’t be able to prevent people from going back onto the streets once they were evicted from hotels. Those people with no recourse to public funds, such as those without settled immigration status, were at particular risk, he said.
Swain said this was “complicated” and that it was important to find out about the needs and wishes of individuals, which is why the data-gathering exercise was so crucial. “We need to chop the numbers, see what the options are based on people’s real wishes, and go from there. In making it a more digestible issue we can start to find solutions.”
He welcomed approaches he had received recently from various organisations with “unconditional offers of help”, and congratulated those that are just “getting on with the job without waiting for me to make them do anything”. But he also made a point – “at the risk of sounding a bit chippy” – of highlighting “business-as-usual letters” he had received from others “listing the 17 things that central government needs to do – thanks for that, I could have written it myself”.
Henderson relayed a comment from a viewer who said that in Coventry, 44 people with no recourse to public funds that were currently in hotels had meetings lined up with immigration lawyers the following week, which would mean their move-on plans could become clearer. Swain said that was exactly the kind of exciting initiative that the taskforce wanted to highlight, so that outcomes could be tracked and learning shared.
In response to a question from Henderson about whether ministers might announce more funding to help the homelessness sector through the next few months, Swain reminded viewers about the various funding pots that the government had already set up to support its rough sleeping objectives.
On top of the £3.2m allocated by the Treasury to get rough sleepers indoors in the lockdown and the £6m Covid-19 Homelessness Response Fund administered by Homeless Link in May and June, homelessness organisations may also be able to benefit from the two tranches of £1.6bn that local authorities are getting to help them support communities through the pandemic.
“It’s not ring-fenced in the letters that went out from ministers but we’ve named homelessness as one of the areas we expect that funding to be spent on,” said Swain.
Before lockdown, he was also working on a “very substantial programme of capital and revenue to get more homeless people off the streets”, but this announcement was drowned out at the time by coronavirus news.
“This isn’t only about the capital to open up physical buildings, of giving registered providers more money to bring units back into play through repair, acquisition, or whatever, but the revenue to go with it so we can support people long term when they’ve moved there,” he said.
“I was delighted that we got this through, £381m over four years, nationally. As soon as we can, we’ll be letting people know how they can bid for that money. Obviously Covid-19 has reshaped our thinking and we’ll want to focus on areas with the highest numbers of people in emergency accommodation.”
He added that around the same time pre-lockdown there was another announcement of £262m for substance misuse services, which some homelessness charities may be eligible for. And £112m is the sum earmarked by government from the Rough Sleeping Initiative for 2020/21.
“So these are significant sums of money,” Swain said. “I know that people can say it’s not enough, but I’m just setting it out as a reminder of what’s still to come through.”
Homeless Link received 295 applications totalling just under £11m for the £6m Coronavirus grants pot it administered, and awarded 133 grants. It is also hoping to secure additional funding for a second grants round.
On 24 June, the Treasury announced an additional £85m to transfer homeless people from hotels into student accommodation or short-term lets elsewhere, until more permanent housing can be found.
Dame Louise Casey said: “This will make sure that local authorities and others don’t have to put people back out on the street”.
Rick Henderson commended this “critical intervention”.
“If executed swiftly, this will undoubtedly prevent many from being forced back into rough sleeping and enable support to continue and trusting relationships to be built. However, once again it is an interim measure only. It will be vital that appropriate long-term housing and support provision is organised swiftly – and for everyone – to ensure that people are able to leave rough sleeping behind them for good.
“This must be achieved alongside a focus on tackling the underlying causes of homelessness, and supporting those becoming newly homeless, including people with no recourse to public funds. Without this broader approach, we risk a rise in rough sleeping just as we increase efforts to end it.”
Homeless Link has made recommendations to government on how to support charities to end rough sleeping for good. These include providing long-term funding and building more social housing.
Swain concluded that MHCLG is “in for the duration” on the issue.
“This is a collaboration of the committed and determined, and we are really determined as a taskforce and as a government to make this difference. On that basis, let’s push on and make sure that nobody ever needs to return to rough sleeping.”
From the front line: Patrick Ryan, Cheif Excecutive, Hestia
Hestia provides a range of services to people in crisis, including operating several domestic abuse refuges across London and the South East. Back in March there was a lot of concern across the sector about reports from countries such as China, which had locked down slightly earlier, of significant increases in cases of domestic abuse. We began to see evidence of this ourselves as downloads of our Bright Sky smartphone app [which provides a UK-wide directory of specialist domestic abuse support services] rose sharply.
We made a decision very early on that where we had self-contained units, we would keep these open to take women and families who were Covid-symptomatic. We decided they would be at more risk left in their home situation than coming into an environment where we felt we could put measures in place to manage the potential illness.
We also got thinking about how we can reach people at risk if the only two places they can go to are the shop and the chemist. So we developed the Safe Spaces initiative in partnership with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Safe Spaces rolled out in April, first with Boots and later with Superdrug and the Coop Pharmacy, where if somebody presented in store and disclosed domestic abuse, they would be taken safely into the consultancy rooms to tell their story and be referred. The pharmacies put posters up and added the Bright Sky app details on till receipts. We haven’t got the first cut of the data yet but I do know that in the first week, there was a woman who went into a Boots in South London and was in a refuge space that night. This model isn’t entirely new – it’s been used in other places – but it’s new to the UK.
We also quickly entered into conversations with the London Police and Crime Commissioner. And so back in the first week of May, with only a couple of days’ notice, we opened a new 12-bed refuge in rooms that were previously used by foreign students, as part of the response to increased numbers. And on Friday 5 June we got funding from the £10m given to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to open another 12-bed crisis refuge and we opened that 10 days later.
My team said that the MHCLG application process was quite streamlined, and they turned the decisions around really quickly. I mean, it’s rare that you get a decision on a Friday, and by the Monday we’ve opened a service. It’s been a fairly decent crisis response from the government. We submitted our views very early on about what was needed and we do have a sense that they were heard, because what then got commissioned is in line with what we were saying was needed. They listened, they moved quickly, and they got that money out quickly.
What’s crucial now is what’s going to come next and if there’s going to be sustainable, ongoing investment. We’re just beginning to pick ourselves up after 10 years of cuts. We are being paid 40% less for every hour of support we deliver compared with almost 20 years ago. That’s not a sustainable position. Also, the complexity of needs that we’re seeing has been growing year on year because they aren’t being met elsewhere. So it’s not like we’re coming from a strong place.
From the frontline: Sam Boyd, Head of Policy, Impact and Communications, Switchback
Switchback supports young adults when they leave prison. We get about 70% of our £560,000 income from trusts and foundations, and the rest from individuals and corporate donors. Because we have a number of multi-year grants, our funding has not been immediately affected by the Covid crisis so we haven’t needed to access any of the government support packages.
We’ve pivoted to a remote delivery model for our services. Our support model entails working “through the gate”, which means starting work with people inside prison, which we normally do one-to-one, and then continuing that support in the community. At the moment, obviously, we haven’t been able to go into prisons because they’re all on strict lockdown, so instead we’ve been sending letters into the prisons for self-referrals. We’ve also been supporting people remotely via phone calls and video calls. More recently, we’ve been doing socially-distanced meet-ups since that’s been allowed.
We knew the statutory services were struggling due to Covid – a lot of probation service staff were off sick for a significant period of time, probation offices were closed, housing offices were difficult to access. All the normal statutory support, which is normally pretty threadbare anyway, was basically unavailable for large numbers of people leaving prison. So there was a huge rise in potential need there and we, along with a few other charities, made it clear to the Ministry of Justice that we stood ready, able and willing to provide additional support to people in the criminal justice system, especially young people leaving prison. But, unfortunately, that offer ended up falling on deaf ears, for a range of reasons – bureaucratic commissioning processes and things like that. It felt like there was a lack of clarity about exactly what the department needed and a gap in communication. In the end we’ve just carried on trying to generate our own referrals and to work with people in our own way, but we were disappointed not to be able to work with more people when we were able to do so.
We hope to be able to continue those conversations with the MoJ because we really want to be a helpful and constructive partner with the government.