NPC dubs contracts for mental health charities ‘insufficient and insecure’

17 Jun 2024 News

By melita/Adobe

Funding given to mental health charities through commissioned contracts “undermines long-term sustainability and investment” according to a think tank.

There is a need to invest in adapting services and the funding climate limits this, it said.

NPC’s paper on the youth mental health crisis states: “With NHS mental health services out of reach or unsuitable for many young people, charities are a vital lifeline.

“However, we know that many voluntary organisations are also struggling to meet rising demand for their services.”

The paper adds there are some gaps in the services offered by charities.

For example, “there are very few organisations working to support children and young people with mental health issues relating to environmental change and eco-anxiety” and the mental health support available for children under five is “relatively limited”.

Funding demand

The paper says the charity sector can no longer meet the demand for support given the level of funding it currently receives.

Statutory mental healthcare services are at “breaking point” and as a result, the charity sector is also struggling.

It notes that statutory funding is primarily given to mental health charities through commissioning contracts.

“These contracts tend to limit how far charities can use them to invest in organisational capabilities and capacity and are often short-term.

“Many public contracts are also chronically underfunded, with 62% of charities across the sector believing that they do not receive the full value it costs to deliver a contract.”

It states that the “insufficient and insecure nature of commissioning contracts heightens the financial risk for charities and undermines long-term sustainability and investment – particularly now when there is a need to invest in adapting services”.

There is an urgent need for greater philanthropic investment in the youth mental health sector and several major funders are responding.

For example, Maudsley Charity is launching a new grants programme, Building Brighter Futures, designed with children and young people, at the end of June 2024. The programme is for organisations supporting children and young people most at risk of mental illness.

Nonetheless, the research states: “As demand has increased, funding has not. Charities in this position now face what NCVO refers to as a ‘triple threat’ of falling income, increasing costs due to inflation, and ever-increasing demand for services.”

NPC also highlighted that charity sector support across the country is not equal.

It identified six key areas where funders have the potential to create long-term positive change, including preventative work and early intervention, supporting children from minoritised groups and enabling collaboration across the mental health sector.

Digital capabilities

In its previous reports on digital mental health services, NPC found that many charities were successfully using digital services, alongside their pre-existing face-to-face support, to enhance the package of care available for children and young people.

“However, there are a number of barriers which prevent charities from fully embracing digital technology.”

These include a lack of workforce capacity and confidence, concerns about ethical and safeguarding issues relating to digital platforms and the high cost of developing and maintaining effective digital services.

Recruitment challenges

The paper adds that workforce retention and staffing shortages remain.

“Many young people turn to support from charities when they cannot access NHS services or are on long waiting lists. But there are not enough qualified mental health practitioners in the charity sector either.”

In response to the growing demand for youth mental health support, some charities are developing innovative partnerships – including with corporates, NHS Trusts, research institutions and other charities – to deliver mental health interventions.

Volunteers “undoubtedly play a central role” in many charities but the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and the impacts of the pandemic have contributed towards a drop in volunteering.

The proportion of the UK population who volunteered at least once a month in 2021-22 was 16%, down from 23% in 2019-20.

“Smaller charities are particularly concerned about volunteer recruitment, with six out of 10 small charities rating this as their main concern. For many mental health charities that rely on volunteer support to staff helplines, online support services, and in-person support sessions, this is a worrying trend.”

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