Levelling up: Charities have a ‘huge’ role but fear it could be a ‘missed opportunity’ 

03 Feb 2022 News

Charities and social enterprises feel there is a clear role, and opportunity, for the sector as a partner in the levelling up agenda, after the government published its white paper yesterday. 

However, many charity leaders say that extra funding in key areas is vital, and fear it could be a “missed opportunity”. 

The government’s paper set out a wide-ranging vision for improving communities and included sections on youth volunteering, dormant assets and plans for the Shared Prosperity Fund. But it contained little in terms genuinely new funding. 

Our summary of the key points relevant to the sector can be read here

Charity Finance Group: ‘The path to levelling up remains long’ 

The Charity Finance Group (CFG) urged the government to follow-up with new funding.

Clare Mills, director of policy and communications at CFG, said: “Civil society has a huge role to play in the government’s levelling up agenda and there is recognition of that in the white paper. Overall, the intentions set out are good, but the path to levelling up remains long. 

“Those who face labour market barriers today cannot wait until 2024-25 and those areas that desperately need investment cannot wait until 2030. Here at CFG we will be looking closely at the detail, to see how the government intends to make good on its well-intentioned ambitions. We hope the government will follow up with policy and new funds at pace.”

Locality: ‘Power of community needs to be front and centre’

Locality, urged the government to put communities at the centre of plans as they develop. 

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Locality, said: “This long overdue white paper could be the start of redressing our country’s deep inequalities - but needs community power to drive it forward. For decades the potential which resides in every local community has been broadly overlooked, and power has been centralised. And that is a big part of the reason why there are such huge disparities of wealth, health and wellbeing in different areas of the country.” 
He added: “Government has listened to many of the ideas put forward by the community sector on issues like community ownership and neighbourhood governance. To be a long-term success, this power of community needs to be front and centre of the government’s levelling up strategy.” 

Pro Bono Economics: ‘Civil society must be seen as a partner’ 

The charity think tank Pro Bono Economics said there were a number positive aspects in the white paper, such as the focus on social capital. But said it was essential that charities and social enterprises are now treated as partners to deliver the vision. 

Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics and Law Family Commission on Civil Society commissioner, said: “Anchoring levelling up plans in time-limited, measurable targets suggests the government is serious about outcomes. And it is pleasing to see a focus on evidence and on learning by doing. But matching outcomes to ambitions will rest both on resources and on the process by which rhetoric is turned into reality. 

“With little sign of new money being available, it is essential civil society is treated as a partner, not just in delivering on the government’s plans but in shaping them too.”

He added: “Repeated examples over the last 50 years have shown us that regeneration efforts tend to flounder unless they are supported by strong local civil society networks.”

Charities Aid Foundation: ‘Chance to formalise the role of charities’ 

The Charities Aid Foundation also emphasised the importance of the government working collaboratively with the sector. 

Neil Heslop, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said yesterday’s paper represents and “an important moment that has the potential to empower local communities and address longstanding economic disparities”.

He added: “The focus on strengthening local decision-making structures gives policymakers the chance to formalise the role of charities in levelling up the nation, and we look forward to seeing how these plans develop.”

NPC: ‘We hope that the government involves and works alongside charities on key social issues’

Charity think tank NPC also said that the government had identified the correct areas to focus on but must deliver its vision with charities. 

NPC policy manager Theo Clay said: “It is great to see the missions around wellbeing, crime, and health inequalities in the levelling up white paper, as our previous work revealed how the public expect social issues to be at the heart of levelling up.
“We have argued for charities to be key delivery partners to a social Levelling Up, the funding from the Dormant Assets Scheme and commitment to piloting Community Covenants alongside civil society is a welcome start to that partnership.” 

He added: “Looking forward, we hope that the government involves and works alongside charities on key social issues.”

St Mungo’s: ‘We look forward to seeing the government implement these missions quickly’

Homelessness charity St Mungo’s urged the government to act quickly.

St Mungo’s chief executive Steve Douglas said the localism aspects are “encouraging”. 

“We are also pleased that the agenda responds to a number of recommendations set out in the Kerslake report, particularly ending the use of ‘no fault’ evictions, building more homes, reducing health disparity and developing workforce skills.
“Achieving these ambitions will make a real difference to the lives of so many people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
“We look forward to seeing the government implement these missions quickly, as they offer a powerful contribution to our shared commitment to ending homelessness and rough sleeping for good.”

Centrepoint: ‘Missed opportunity to commit to end youth homelessness’ 

Youth Homelessness charity, Centrepoint said help must be carefully targeted. 

Balbir Chatrik, Centrepoint’s director of policy said: “However levelling up is defined, the success of the next generation of young people should be at its heart. 
“That means we must give young people the support they need, now, to help improve their own futures and to better the prospects of their communities too. Every young person deserves a home and a job. The promise of investment in affordable housing, education, and local job opportunities is welcome but, to have real impact, careful targeting of resources towards vulnerable and disenfranchised young people is essential. 
“We want to end youth homelessness by 2037 - but we know it will be difficult without the government sharing that aim. This white paper was a missed opportunity to make that commitment - but, if ministers want to demonstrate they mean business when they talk about levelling up, they could start by developing a strategy to end youth homelessness as soon as possible.” 

St Vincent de Paul Society: Listen to people affected by inequality to direct funding where it’s needed

St Vincent de Paul Society, an international Christian voluntary network dedicated to tackling poverty, called on the government to listen to people affected by inequality. 

Chief executive, Elizabeth Palmer, said: “We welcome the ambitious aims of the levelling up white paper, however, change must be informed by those at grassroots level, those who are supporting people in need and those being supported. Without listening to the voices of people who are directly and indirectly affected by regional inequalities the government cannot hope to direct funding where it is most needed.”

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


More on