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160,000 charity staff furloughed in first six weeks of job retention scheme

16 Jun 2020 News

More than 160,000 charity staff had been furloughed by the beginning of May, according to government figures sent to MPs.

The data was included in the government’s response to a report on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on charities, published earlier this month by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. 

Responding to the committee's findings, the government said: “On Tuesday 12 May the chancellor announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be extended to the end of October 2020, and this funding level will remain in place until the end of July 2020.

“The scheme has been, and continues to be a lifeline to a multitude of organisations, including charities; our estimate is that, as of 3 May 2020, 164,000 jobs in the charity sector have been furloughed.”

No stabilisation fund

The government also used its response to reiterate the help available to charities through existing business support schemes, including emergency loans and rate exemptions, and to reject the committee’s recommendation to establish a stabilisation fund for charities.

This fund would have extended more financial support to the sector, in addition to the £750m package announced in April. It would have included help for charities not working on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as organisations needing funding after the immediate threat of the pandemic has passed.

The chair of the committee, Julian Knight MP, accused the government of taking a “head-in-the-sand approach” to the threat posed to charities, and said that ministers had “failed to engage in any meaningful way with wider issues raised by our report”.

DCMS Committee: Government response 'deeply disappointing'

Knight said: "The government is taking a head-in-the-sand approach to the plight of charities, struggling for survival against lost income and soaring demands for their services from people hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. Ministers fail to recognise that the charities and voluntary sector present a special case at such a critical time for the country.

“Our report made a clear call on government to urgently review whether its schemes to help businesses really met the needs of charities at risk of closure. We also urged backing for a stabilisation fund which would ensure the viability of this sector to provide longer term support for those in need in the difficult times ahead.

“The government still doesn't seem to understand that there are charities providing vital services, which are not directly related to the Covid-19 response, that need further support.

“The fact that the government has failed to engage in any meaningful way with wider issues raised by our report, including the lack of clarity about how charities can access the funds that are on offer, is deeply disappointing. Charity shops might be reopening for the first time since lockdown but their future is far from secure."

Post-lockdown

The government response did say that officials are “undertaking analysis to prioritise and direct policy responses” to help charities with fundraising and trading income when social distancing rules are relaxed.

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