Policy, campaigns & research

The full impact of COVID-19 is only just starting to hit charity services

Over recent weeks, data about the negative effects of the pandemic on charities’ capacity to support people has started to emerge, and it’s grim reading. We may have passed the initial tidal wave of the crisis, but now we’re starting to see what the wreckage left behind might look like.

Acevo’s monthly tracker survey released last week reported that one-third of respondent charities expect to make redundancies in the next 12 months. The latest survey by Pro Bono Economics (PBE) released today shows even more disturbing findings. Survey results based on 455 respondents show that 19% of charities surveyed have already made redundancies and a further 23% plan to make further cutbacks when the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) closes.

We’ve known for some time that the CJRS, whilst ill-suited for charities, has helped stave off mass charity sector redundancies during the early part of the pandemic. Available data suggests that somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of charities responding to different surveys have used the job retention scheme (the wide range is probably down to variation in samples).

It’s hard to know what the true figure is, but it’s increasingly clear is that as the scheme winds down, redundancies will increase. The CJRS may have bought time and blunted the damage, but also simply delayed the inevitable. The latest PBE research suggests that the impact of redundancies will be greater for larger charities – with 44% reporting they expect to make redundancies once the CJRS ends.

The #NeverMoreNeeded campaign has been tracking publicised announcements of charity job losses and we know of around 5400 so far; there are likely far more than that which haven’t been announced yet or will be soon. Based on the data, PBE calculates that the eventual figure could be 60,000.

What does all this mean? Ultimately it’s not about jobs or charities surviving; it’s about what they provide for people. We’re at risk of a substantial contraction in the levels of service that charities large and small provide across all aspects of society, which people from all walks of life rely on.

Even if charities manage to stay afloat, many will constrict or mothball services, and be less resilient to future stresses as reserves have been diminished. Even large charities that may have sufficient reserves to survive won’t be immune – and in fact collectively they may comprise the greatest proportions of job losses and subsequent withdrawal of services or cancelled initiatives.

Without concerted policy efforts to mitigate these impacts, vital life-saving and life-enhancing services that people need will continue to disappear over the rest of 2020 and 2021, and into 2022 even. Knowledge, skills, capacity and expertise will be lost too. Will they come back? When? How?

To cite just one example, the blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan announced that it will be putting 29 jobs at risk of redundancy, partly due to a substantial loss in fundraising income. Its essential service is to match bone marrow and stem cell donors with recipients who have rare cancers and other conditions. This is an incredibly sophisticated service that requires the highest level of scientific acumen and expertise. It’s not ‘nice to have’ – it’s literally a life-or-death issue for people needing treatment and their families.

Not only has the supply of donor material been interrupted by lockdowns and international quarantines, but the charity’s financial and staffing capacity are taking a major hit. How much longer will a person with leukaemia have to wait for a life-saving bone marrow transplant over the next few years?

Examples like this are where the various statistics and survey data show up in real life. There are countless other examples from the myriad causes that charities serve, from charities large and small, specialist or generalist, popular and unpopular.

At the #NeverMoreNeeded campaign we’ve been pushing government to adopt a 5 Point Plan to help minimise the damage and enable charities to play their full role in the recovery. We really need your help in making this plan a reality. Check out resources on www.nmn.org.uk and stay tuned for action requests coming your way soon!