“Taken for granted” and “a missed opportunity”. Charity Sector leaders respond to the March 2021 Budget.

This is a companion piece to yesterday’s website article, which set out the key points from the March 2021 budget for UK charities and not-for-profits.

In criticism similar to the sector’s reaction to the March 2020 Budget, which was described as “underwhelming and a “missed opportunity”,  charity leaders have described the 2021 Budget as disappointing and suggested the government does not recognise the value of the sector.

The Budget has pledged money to armed forces veterans and domestic abuse services, but has done little to address many of the key asks set out by charities ahead of the budget. 

A coalition of sector bodies working together as the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign had urged the government to create an Emergency Support Fund and groups had suggested a temporary increase to Gift Aid. None of these changes have come to fruition in the Budget.

Meanwhile frontline charities said measures announced did not go far enough to help vulnerable people. 

ACEVO: ‘The government is taking the charity sector for granted’

Vicky Browning, Chief Executive of ACEVO said: “The government is taking the charity sector for granted. Since the first day of the first lockdown the government has relied on charities for help delivering food, medical care, mental health support, and housing support.

“Charities and community groups have provided the singing groups, cooking classes and befriending calls that stave off the loneliness felt by many people trapped in their own homes by a lockdown that has lasted longer, under stricter conditions, than anyone initially imagined. It is charities that have stepped in to advocate for feeding hungry children, to fight for the rights of pregnant women and to ensure vaccinations are available to those most at risk. It is charities that have worked with the NHS to vaccinate over 20 million people in three months.

“Charities want to be there to do this, but goodwill will not keep the doors open and the services running. Today the chancellor ignored economic evidence, he ignored policy ideas but most importantly and disappointingly he ignored the people that charities work with who most need the government’s support, by leaving them almost completely out of the Budget.

Charity Finnace Group (CFG): ‘Government has once again failed to recognise the vital role civil society plays’

Caron Bradshaw, Chief Executive of Charity Finance Group, said: “CFG was initially encouraged by the chancellor’s opening gambit that he recognises the extraordinary hardship so many people are now facing. However, the government has once again failed to recognise the vital role civil society plays in protecting and supporting those same people.

“The chancellor has failed to repair the safety net used by millions of our citizens every day, despite us very clearly laying out why an Emergency Support Package and longer-term support measures are needed #RightNow.

“Deliberate and continued refusal to support social change organisations delivering public benefit leaves our sector precariously balanced on the cliff edge of rising demand and reducing income.

“There are few bright spots in this Budget that we must acknowledge. The extension of the furlough scheme until September 2021 will come as a relief to many. But as we have come to expect, a failure to engage in amending this scheme – in order to support continued delivery of services – leaves the sector having to decide between mobilising or mothballing.”

She added: “Today’s Budget is best described as a huge missed opportunity, but it is not too late to address these deficiencies. We will keep pressing government to ensure their words lead to positive social change as the economy and society starts to focus on coming out of this crisis.

National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO): ‘It is vital that the government recognises this and invests in the long-term sustainability of the sector’

Sarah Vibert, Interim Chief Executive of NCVO, said: “Despite several of the provisions announced in today’s budget being of interest to some charities, including the furlough scheme extension, the UK Community Renewal Fund, and Restart Grants, we are disappointed to see that the call for sector-specific support has remained unanswered. This is following sector-wide support for the creation of an emergency support fund through the #RightNow campaign and the prime minister’s pledge to do ‘much more’ to support the voluntary sector over the winter. 
“Charities and volunteers are critical in supporting communities through the covid-19 pandemic, including a coordinated effort to support the NHS deliver the national vaccination programme. Almost 50% of charities are expecting an increased demand in their services over the next month. Despite this increasing demand for support, the reality of the national and local lockdowns and subsequent restrictions are having a huge impact on income. Dwindling financial reserves, redundancies and reductions in services are becoming more commonplace. 
Charities and volunteers will be an essential part of economic recovery and rebuilding our society post-COVID. It is vital that the government recognises this and invests in the long-term sustainability of the sector.

Pro Bono Economics: ‘Glaring omission in his lack of support for the charity sector’

Matt Whittaker, Chief Executive of Pro Bono Economics, said: “The chancellor has taken some extraordinary and welcome steps today to prop up jobs and the economy, but he has made a glaring omission in his lack of support for the charity sector. Toy shops, art galleries and cricket clubs will all receive additional emergency funding, but charities supporting the most vulnerable have not had a look in. That’s despite the pandemic prompting an estimated £10bn funding gap for charities and the sector facing record levels of demand.

“The chancellor has missed the opportunity to support those many thousands of organisations up and down the country doing essential work on mental health, improving the life chances of young people and delivering help to vulnerable groups disproportionately impacted by Covid.

“Money for domestic abuse and veteran’s mental health services is extremely welcome, but it is relatively small beer and leaves significant swathes of the social sector with little to cheer. Simple steps like including charities in the new Help to Grow programme or expanding the size and scope of its Community Assets scheme could have made a big difference.

NPC: ‘There is still time for this to change’

Leah Davis, Head of Policy at NPC, said: “This was meant to be a budget for the post-Covid-19 era, yet for all the innovation, infrastructure and investment to get our economy moving, we saw nothing comparable for solving the deep social problems we face. Small awards on veteran’s mental health, domestic violence and thalidomide and a limited extension of social investment tax relief are better than nothing, but it’s hard not to get the impression that in the chancellor’s mind our nation’s social challenges are eclipsed by the economic concerns.

“Yes the economic challenge is huge, but to ignore the social challenge is out of kilter with the needs of the country. This is a big mistake; there is no levelling up without taking these social challenges on. The prospectus for the ‘levelling up fund’ (released alongside the budget) fails to mention many of the social challenges that will hold back the economic recovery, and the criteria may even exclude the charities who are tackling social issues.

“There is still time for this to change, so we’re calling upon the government to use all the levers at its disposal, including charities, funders and philanthropists to make its vision of a more prosperous, healthy and equal Britain a reality.

Charities Aid Foundation (CAF): ‘We urge the Treasury to look again at how to support vital charity services’

Neil Heslop, Chief Executive of CAF, said: “CAF welcomes the continuation of pandemic support by extension of the furlough scheme until September. Announcements on funding for domestic violence organisations, support for the armed forces, the arts, culture and sport are helpful. However, the lack of wider support for the voluntary sector is disappointing while many charities still face challenges of increased demand and constrained fundraising.

“Our call, together with hundreds of charities nationwide, for an increase to the level of Gift Aid on charitable donations would maintain cashflows for many organisations, whilst supporting their efforts to accelerate digital fundraising. We urge the Treasury to look again at how to support vital charity services right now.” 

Charity Tax Group: ‘The lack of targeted support for the charity sector is very disappointing’

Richard Bray, Acting Chair of the Charity Tax Group, said: “While we appreciate that the government had to focus on the Covid recovery in this Budget, the lack of targeted support for the charity sector is very disappointing. It is important that the vital role of charities is not forgotten and proactive steps are taken to improve the fiscal environment they operate in.

“The extension of the Job Retention Scheme is welcome news for charities still facing uncertainty as a result of Covid-19. The new Restart Grants of up to £18,000 per property could also be very helpful to charities with shops and attractions, but only if there is confirmation that EU state aid rules no longer apply. If this is not the case charities will miss out on millions of pounds of essential funding. It is also crucially important that local authorities are given prompt guidance and support to administer these grants.

“This is particularly important given the lack of general funding for the charity sector, despite the reliance on charitable services and the ongoing financial pressures charities face. Additional support for the arts and sport is helpful but does not go nearly far enough.”

Locality: ‘Put power and resources in the hands of those who truly understand the issues’

Tony Armstrong, Locality’s Chief Executive, said: “We are delighted to see the announcement of the Community Ownership Fund in today’s budget. Locality and our members have been passionately campaigning for this fund since 2016. It is wonderful that the government has listened to the voices of those who have experienced the power of community ownership.  

“Community ownership can help save our local high streets and heritage, bring communities together and be a foundation for local economic renewal. Community assets have been sold off at huge rates over the last few years, and the pandemic puts these places in further danger. Through community ownership we can prevent the buildings and spaces we love, our libraries, youth centres, allotments and public swimming pools, from falling into private hands. 

“We look forward to working alongside the government to ensure that this Fund lives up its promise and benefits the communities that need it the most. To do so, it must provide a mix of capital and revenue funding to support assets to be sustainable in the long-term.

Charity Retail Association: ‘Disappointing that the Government are yet to introduce a renewed emergency funding package’

Robin Osterley, Chief Executive of the Charity Retail Association, said: “The boost for retail in today’s Budget will help support the financial recovery of charity shops and their ability to raise much-needed funds for charities. The introduction of Restart Grants and an extension of the business rates holiday for retail are vital foundation stones that will help charity retailers bounce back from the dramatic setbacks of the past year.”

“The Restart Grants will provide welcome support to many charity retailers, but it is a major disappointment that it is still not yet clear whether and when the UK government will reconsider the continued application of old EU state aid caps which mean that larger retailers will not be eligible for the Restart Grants”

“Whilst there is much in the Budget to be welcomed from a retail perspective, it is disappointing that the government are yet to introduce a renewed emergency funding package for charities who are struggling with an increase in demand for their services at the same time as they have lost income due to lockdown restrictions.

Directory of Social Change (DSC): Hopefully at some point we will establish contact and teach the space robots a new language

Jay Kennedy, Director of Policy and Research at DSC, said: “Once charities close down, and cut or mothball services, they won’t be around to help rebuild the country and address the devastating aftermath of this crisis – whether in mental health, education, or the myriad social needs of people young and old.”

He encouraged people to continue to support the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign, and said: “Hopefully at some point we will establish contact and teach the space robots a new language!

Frontline charity responses 

Centrepoint: ‘Government needs to stop kicking the can down the road’

Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at Centrepoint, said: “Once again the government has waited until the eleventh hour to reassure those struggling the most that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit will be further extended.

“We know from the young people we support how much uncertainty over money is devastating to their mental health. Extending the uplift for only six months does not go far enough given the ending of furlough and the increase in unemployment that we could face before Christmas.

British Heart Foundation: ‘Today’s Budget leaves life saving research at risk’

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “(The) Budget leaves life saving research at risk, and does not give the NHS the means to clear the vast backlogs of treatment and care caused by the pandemic.  

“Without government support, charity-funded medical research faces devastation, and could leave a generation of young researchers without funding. This could reverse decades of scientific progress in developing new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat heart and circulatory diseases.” 

United Response: ‘The absence of any mention of social care in today’s Budget was striking’

Sarah Battershall, Director of Quality and Practice Development at learning disability charity United Response, said: “Public services like social care have been the backbone of our country’s day-to-day response to this awful virus, with frontline staff giving creative and passionate help to millions since March 2020.

“Rounds of applause were a touching appreciation of these tireless heroes during last year, but today was a missed opportunity to give social care the platform it really needs to do the best job it can – whatever the weather.

“Even during our darkest hours, good social care must be about much more than keeping people alive and looking after their needs. It must be about equipping people to live the best lives possible, investing in resources and harnessing the potential of everyone in society.

“The absence of any mention of social care in today’s Budget was striking at this pivotal moment, and government must urgently bring forward its plans to invest in the future of this vital sector and those who depend on it.

“But if it’s once again ‘the same old story’, then let’s change the narrative: we all deserve the ability to make connections, nurture relationships, be supported and support each other. Government must now make social care a priority for all of us – for our friends and families, our present and futures.

Oxfam: ‘Support will only have the intended impact if it is not capped in a way that penalises charities with large shop networks’

Sam Nadel, Oxfam‘s Head of Policy and Advocacy, said: “Additional support for high street retailers is welcome – every pound we lose while our shops are closed is a pound less we can spend helping people around the world who have been hit hard by conflict, climate change and Covid-19.

“However, this support will only have the intended impact if it is not capped in a way that penalises charities with large shop networks. Current subsidy control measures were put in place to prevent unfair competition between companies – they should not be unfairly applied to charity shops.

Macmillan: ‘Disappointing and a missed opportunity to do better’

Eve Byrne, Head of Campaigns and Public Affairs at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “(The) decision to continue the £20 increase in Universal Credit for six months is disappointing and a missed opportunity to do better. Many people with cancer were already struggling with the financial impact of their condition before Covid-19. From affecting their ability to work to increased costs like transport to medical appointments, cancer often comes with a hefty price tag.

“We urge the government to provide much needed certainty for the people who desperately need it by permanently maintaining the £20 increase in Universal Credit. This lifeline should also be extended to those with cancer receiving equivalent benefits who haven’t received any extra support during the pandemic.

Barnardo’s: ‘We must put children at the heart of government plans’

Javed Khan, Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, said: We welcome a number of measures outlined in today’s Budget, including the much needed extra funding for domestic abuse services, investments in apprenticeships, support for the Kickstart programme and the wider focus on jobs.

“Families we support are struggling to afford food, heating and vital data so they can do their schoolwork, so it is particularly welcome that the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit has been extended.

“Children have suffered hugely throughout the pandemic, especially those who were already vulnerable – with a growing crisis in mental health and increased risk of harm and abuse. Even more challenges will come to light once children return to school, risking an explosion in referrals.

“We urgently need investment in support for these children to prevent long-term harm, and we must put children at the heart of government plans.

“Even before the pandemic hit, investment in vital early help had fallen by £1.6bn over the last ten years, and yet more and more children are coming into care. To address this we need strategic, multi-year funding to accompany the government’s reviews of early years and children’s social care, and to give vulnerable children the best possible chance of a positive future.

Mental Health Foundation: ‘Government must do the right thing and ensure that people are adequately supported’ 

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “We welcome the government’s decision to extend the Universal Credit uplift until the end of September, but are deeply concerned by the cliff-edge effect when this ends and the potential impact this will have on millions of people’s mental health. The government must do the right thing and ensure that people are adequately supported by making the Universal Credit uplift permanent.

Source: Civil Society News