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Charities keep people alive and well - we need government help too

29th Mar 2020

United Kingdom

The coronavirus emergency has increased demand for the vital third sector, while crushing its ability to raise funds, writes Blood Cancer UK CEO Gemma Peters.

In recent days the government has shown that when it comes to protecting the economy, it is prepared to do “whatever it takes”.

It has acted, boldly, to shore up the economy, to safeguard jobs and to protect the self-employed. But those of us in the charity sector have been left asking: what about us?

This is not a charity leader getting out the begging bowl. It is a reminder of the reality that charity services are essential to bringing the country through a crisis.

I work for a blood cancer charity, and we’ve seen a monumental increase in calls to our support line since the public were informed that people with blood cancer are at particularly high risk from the virus. We’ve had to draft in members of other teams to answer the thousands of phone, email and social media requests for advice. It has been all hands on deck and working all hours, but we can’t keep up.

We are just one example; I know it is not just us. The demand on charities that focus on mental health, domestic violence, older people and hospices has increased dramatically.

But while the need for charities has risen, their income has fallen drastically. Fundraising events have been cancelled or postponed; companies that support us are closing or cutting back. And people donate less and save more when they are anxious about their livelihoods.

What has been created is an impossible choice: do we let down the people we’re here to serve, or do we risk going to the wall?

This is why the government must protect charities through the crisis, and so enable them to play a full role in helping deal with it.

Many companies can furlough their staff because they are unable to sell their goods and services. Does the government really expect us to furlough our staff when more people than ever need us? We need to recruit, not to lay off. Who will pick up calls from worried people with blood cancer if our support line isn’t open?

Hospices should not be expected to furlough their staff, and neither should charities that help homeless people and those that support vulnerable children and young people.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, must understand that you might be able to mothball a charity, but you can’t mothball the problems it is there to deal with.

Bloodwise is more fortunate than some. However long it takes, I am confident that we will weather the storm. But we will emerge a bruised organisation, weaker and less able to support the people who need us. We are already facing agonising decisions about what we will no longer do and whom we will no longer support.

Others are not so lucky. Without the kind of financial support that the government has given the private sector, thousands of charities doing brilliant work on difficult societal issues will close — some in the next few weeks.

In his actions for the self-employed, Sunak showed he is willing to listen and change his mind. We need him to do so again. Doing nothing while a crucial part of our social fabric withers would be a mistake the country would rue for generations.

It would not only be disastrous for the people who depend on their services; it would also put a huge additional strain on a public sector that is already creaking at the seams. But, more than that, it would be a tragedy for our society. Think of all the women who are alive today thanks to domestic violence charities. Then there are all the children who aren’t in prison or dead because of their local youth club, and the prisoners whose lives have been turned around by a charity.

Can you imagine what sort of country it would be if those charities had not done their work? Let’s not sit on our hands and watch them disappear.

The government knows we are an important part of the system and the services that this wretched virus is doing so much to attack. It must support us as it has others, so we can play our full role and keep vital services afloat.

This blog originally appeared in The Sunday Times


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