Steve Butterworth, CEO, Neighbourly, calls for policymakers and businesses to prioritise the power of small charities and community causes in order to level up the UK
Government has made clear its commitment to levelling up the UK, to help ensure an equitable recovery from the pandemic that leaves nobody behind. With communities across the UK experiencing immediate and serious hardship, this can’t come soon enough. But we will only meet this ambition by strengthening support for small charities and local causes who are part of the fabric of our society. Levelling up to ensure a stronger, fairer and more resilient UK needs to begin in communities and be driven by the knowledge of local people.
Alarming levels of poverty, inequality and social isolation, alongside mounting mental health problems, are putting major strain on people – and pushing some communities to breaking point. The pandemic has plunged many into difficulties, with more than 15 million people across the UK currently in poverty. Directors of children’s services in north-east England recently warned that “shameful” levels of poverty are driving dramatic rises in referrals to children’s social services. And depression rates have doubled compared to before COVID-19.
These pressing social issues are affecting individuals of all demographics. Yet there is no doubt that certain neighbourhoods experience heightened levels of deprivation. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that “on a wide variety of measures, regional disparities in the UK are greater than in most comparable countries”. For example, food insecurity in one in six areas is more than 150% higher than the national average.
When it comes to addressing these urgent concerns, one size does not fit all. Local action built on local knowledge must come first. It is those closest to the individuals involved who know best. Because of this, and their unparalleled levels of trust and knowledge of their neighbourhoods, small charities and hyper-local good causes need to be at the heart of discussions and action around how we recover from the pandemic and level up the UK.
There are more than 136,000 small charities and many thousands more unregistered community causes across the UK. These small but mighty organisations are the backbone of our society and have gone above and beyond since the pandemic began. They range from food banks, groups tackling homelessness or providing refuge to people facing domestic abuse, to all kinds of other causes that help people to overcome adversity and fulfil their potential.
Local causes have already more than proved their power since the pandemic began, showing incredible resilience despite a dramatic loss of income and increased demand for services. Neighbourly’s network of 17,000 community causes responded to a 106% increase in demand for their services during the first lockdown, with 73% of them having to remodel services to continue to support people in need. This is true for all kinds of small charities and local good causes across the UK, who have shown tremendous ability to adapt and innovate despite extremely limited resources.
Coronavirus Community Support Fund
Yet despite the proven power of local causes and small charities, they are still not given the appropriate amount of support or recognition. Recent analysis revealed that large charities received more than a quarter of emergency government funding from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, which was aimed at supporting small charities and community organisations.
Any charity doing good work is of course to be celebrated and championed. But if policymakers don’t level up the support for small charities and good causes, people and wider communities will suffer. We must ensure that community causes have the resources they need: from funding and volunteer time to increased donations of food and other items. In addition, these local causes must be given a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions about the future of the people they support. We must listen to local voices and act on what they say.
The events of the past 18 months have encouraged everyone to think more about their local community. Whether it’s individuals increasingly helping others in their area, or the many businesses who have embedded themselves more deeply into the places they operate by providing funding, product donations, or employee time and skills. Now, the UK’s local neighbourhood infrastructure must be strengthened to ensure that our communities not only survive but thrive.
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