Conditions set to get tougher for charities


Gareth Jones analyses the financial struggles organisations have battled over the last few months, and why they are #NeverMoreNeeded than now

31st July 2020 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Ascending Mount Everest is one of the great challenges for thrill seekers. Sitting at a gargantuan 29,000 feet – just below the cruising height for many commercial aircraft – Everest makes Ben Nevis, 4,400 ft, look like a mere bump in the road.

Most people think of climbers using metal hooks to cling on for dear life as they climb up the world’s highest mountain. But what many don’t realise is that just to get to Base Camp involves a 14-day trek. Many fail to make it to the point where the climb really starts. The voluntary sector, in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and all its implications, is only at Base Camp.

TFN’s first mention of the term “coronavirus” was on 3 March, in a story where carers said they were fearing they may be unable to support their loved ones if a pandemic became widespread. Since then, we have written hundreds of stories on the pandemic and its fallout, new terms such as “Covid-19” and “furlough” have been used countless times.

The sector was outspoken with its fears for the impact, both societal and financial, that Covid-19 could have right from the beginning. On 4 March, the Poverty Alliance warned statutory sick pay needed to be increased to protect workers who need to self-isolate. A week later, the UK was in full-on panic-buying mode, with foodbanks fearing that the most vulnerable were struggling to access supplies.

Organisations were also quick to warn, and recognise, that they faced a fight for survival. On 18 March, Aberlour said it was facing unprecedented demand on its services. By the end of the month, the widespread fears of the sector - with funds falling rapidly but demand on services rising at unprecedented levels - were becoming clear.

The VSA Easter Anguston Farm in Aberdeen was one of the first organisations to warn that it faced a real, and imminent, threat of closure (thankfully the farm is now planning to open its doors to visitors in the coming months as it implements social distancing measures). The Scottish Seabird Centre, The Homeless Veterans Project and Four Pillars are others who have had to go down the route of emergency appeals.

Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones

In recent weeks, the financial implications have started to lead to proposed job losses in the sector. Health charities look to have been particularly hard-hit, with Cancer Research warning it may lose around 300 staff, Breast Cancer Now looking at 60 job losses and the BHF announcing this week that it may have to reduce its staff numbers by 300. The National Trust is another major sector employer that is facing swingeing cuts.

With the furlough scheme being wound down, and the long term impacts of the pandemic beginning to become more apparent, more job losses are inevitable. Some small charities, where all staff have been furloughed, may not return. Like an ascent of Everest, conditions are set to get tougher after Base Camp.

Unprecedented emergency funding has been created during the pandemic to support charities, but more will be needed in the coming months and years. Funders have embraced flexibility and new ways of working, hopefully this will continue long after Covid-19 subsides.

And it is clear that the sector will be #NeverMoreNeeded as the country, and the world, battles through the pandemic. Communities have come together to support those who require help and more Scots are volunteering than ever before. Millions of meals have been delivered to the vulnerable across the country. Homeless charities have worked with the Scottish Government to ensure those who face life on the streets during the pandemic have been housed in safe accommodation, and those who face eviction are protected.

Unfortunately the peak is yet to come for the crisis that voluntary sector organisations face, but it isn’t too far away. Charities will need to navigate the next few months carefully to ensure they are able to help today and are here for people and communities in the future. Difficult decisions will have to be made.

TFN may not be able to solve these issues, but we’ll be here to highlight them and continue to shout about the vital role the sector will play in creating a better Scotland post-coronavirus. We’re always looking to tell your inspiring stories, and make the struggles you face clear to the wider world. Get in touch by emailing or using #NeverMoreNeeded

Gareth Jones is a reporter for TFN and communications officer for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO)