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Ex-civil society minister urges Treasury to act now to avoid charities closing

26 Mar 2020 News

Rob Wilson

The Treasury must sort out a package of support for charities because “thousands of charities could be gone within a matter of weeks”, a former minister for civil society has warned. 

Writing in the Telegraph, Rob Wilson, who was minister for civil society under David Cameron and Theresa May, said it is vital that the government acts quickly to support the sector, which has seen much of its income sources dry up. 

Yesterday the prime minister Boris Johnson echoed statements from the Treasury and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport by stating that the government is working on a package of support for the sector. 

Elsewhere, over 200 MPs and peers have now signed a letter urging the government to support charities.

‘Every day matters for the survival of the charity sector’ 

Wilson said the charity sector was something for the country to be proud of and that if it was depleted, there would be a big impact on society and the economy. 

He said: “In the UK we’ve had the strongest charity sector anywhere in the world. It employed over 865,000 people and added £17.1bn to our economy in 2016-17, while formal volunteering contributed an extra £23.9bn. The social and economic impact of the sector failing will be substantial.”

Wilson warned that the many charities are on the brink of collapse.

He said: “Literally thousands of charities could be gone within a matter of weeks without action.”

His warnings come days after NCVO said the sector stands to lose at least £4.3bn over the coming three months. 

Charities have seen fundraising income disappear as events are cancelled, trading income stop as activities cease and income from the private sector diminish as companies worry about their own cash flow. 

Wilson said: “Income streams are dissolving so quickly it is frightening.”

He acknowledged: “The Treasury is working flat-out and no one envies ministers the decisions they have to make, every one at pace and every one urgent – and the chancellor has said that the government is working on a package of support for charities. 

“But I say to ministers, it can’t come soon enough: every day matters right now for the survival of Britain’s voluntary sector. Many are having to make decisions about redundancies and closures this week – faced with the hideous choice of being unable to help people now or being unable to carry on in the future.”

Wilson suggested the government find a way to release £2bn of dormant asset funding and said grants should be “easy and quick to access”.

He said: “We are in great danger of letting our social infrastructure wither on the vine. Charities have a vital part to play in tackling the coronavirus crisis, and in helping the country rebuild once the worst is over. But they can’t do that if they no longer exist.”

PM: ‘We’re looking at a package’ 

Yesterday in Parliament Tracey Brabin, Labour MP for Bately and Spen, questioned Boris Johnson about support for charities. 

She said: “Charities, including those on the frontline of our national response to coronavirus - those working with the seriously ill, the elderly, the young, victims of domestic violence and providing food to the vulnerable - are in dire straits and face a £4.3bn drop in income. Furloughing staff providing essential services to the vulnerable is, frankly, not an option.”

Johnson replied: “The honourable member is absolutely right to pay tribute to the work of the voluntary sector and the charitable sector. They are crucial to our national response to this crisis, and my right honourable friends the culture secretary and the chancellor are looking at a package of measures to support charities as well.” 

By 5pm yesterday, 236 MPs and peers from nine different political parties had signed a letter organised by Stephen Doughty, Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, urging the government to support charities. 

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here.



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