Charities will face new pressures when lockdown lifts, says IVAR report

27 Apr 2020 News

The “fallout” from the coronavirus crisis will place pressure on charities, according to a report into the impact of the pandemic on the sector.

Getting Ready for the Fallout, which is based on a survey of charity leaders and is published today by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), says that there is “considerable anxiety about the long-term impact of Covid-19” in the sector, including the social consequences of current lockdown measures.

“Lockdown is placing significant strain on vulnerable people, and there is a growing sense that it is ‘storing up trouble’,” the report says, quoting anonymously from survey responses. “Existing mental health problems are being exacerbated, and ‘new problems are being created’.

“Relationships are breaking down. People are unable to grieve properly. And routine and elective healthcare has been postponed.”

The report says that these issues, along with the likelihood of an economic recession after government restrictions are lifted, mean charities are already preparing for additional demand for services, both from families who were vulnerable before the crisis and from what one leader calls “a new wave of people going into financial hardship”.

Staff and trustees

IVAR reports that many leaders are worried about the emotional strain that the pandemic has placed on their staff. “Staff are scared out of their wits,” one survey respondent said. “We never anticipated this.” Leaders said they were worried that coordinating work using online platforms is no substitute for seeing colleagues in person.

There is a mixed picture regarding the relationship between charity bosses and their trustee boards. Strong support from trustees “is not universal”, the report notes, although some leaders say that boards have been supportive, especially when the charity has had to make difficult decisions during the crisis. 

Furlough and finances

The charity leaders surveyed by IVAR echoed the widely-held view that the government’s furlough scheme was poorly suited to the sector. “For frontline organisations, withdrawing services is not an option,” the report says. It quotes one survey answer: “Decisions to furlough staff are largely irrelevant as our beneficiaries need us now.”

Most respondents expected their charities' reserves to “decline significantly” as they try to maintain services and cope with falling income.

‘Manic adjustment’

IVAR also says that this is likely to be a challenging time for charity leaders, who will have to transition from one set of pressures to another as the crisis progresses. 

The reports says: “Although the initial phase of manic adjustment has passed, they face the challenges of uncertainty over how long the lockdown will last and what will happen when it ends.”

IVAR surveyed 37 charity leaders earlier this month, representing organisations in all four parts of Great Britain and ranging from immigration and criminal justice charities to environmental groups.

Ben Cairns, director at IVAR, said: “We’re hearing a clear message from charity leaders. Funders need to continue their commitment to maximum flexibility and sensitivity as organisations navigate their way through uncertainty and upheaval. Unrestricted funding is critical, along with clear communication about medium-term priorities”.

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