SUFFOLK’S VOLUNTARY & COMMUNITY SECTOR CALLS FOR URGENT HELP WITH THE EFFECTS OF THE COST OF LIVING CRISIS
While the cost-of-living crisis financially impacts individuals across Suffolk, it is also important to remember the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector groups and organisations facing significant challenges once again. The sector, which provides invaluable and often lifesaving support to thousands of communities and families across Suffolk and which rose to every challenge Covid 19 threw at it, is now under threat once more and expected to withstand a wide variety of effects from the cost-of-living crisis at a time when Covid recovery is still ongoing.
Community Action Suffolk reports that enquiries relating to cost-of-living support are rising by the day. Those organisations with buildings are expressing real concern over increasing energy costs with some community pubs, shops, and village halls voicing they may have to close their doors for at least a few months post-Christmas. Should this happen, Suffolk residents may find access to vital community groups restricted leading to increased social isolation and affecting mental health, and access to proposed ‘warm hubs’ for those who can’t afford to heat their homes without a place in the local parish or village. Just yesterday, Sarah Vibert, Chief Executive at one of our national infrastructure bodies, NCVO, reported “Trustees of voluntary organisations ranging from leisure centres to village halls, nurseries to care homes are trying to do the maths on 300% increases in energy costs.”
Organisations are also reporting declining volunteer numbers as past volunteers are increasingly having to find additional work, are unable to afford to volunteer, or are having to choose between family time and local volunteering as their ‘disposable’ time becomes less and less. Those who are managing to volunteer are often seeking increased flexibility of hours, limited hours, or need more opportunity to volunteer from home. Coupled with difficulties recruiting and retaining staff which although getting easier, is not back to pre-pandemic levels, organisations are facing huge choices on what, when and how they deliver services; and for many, may mean making cutbacks ultimately culminating in less of the vital support they provide being available for Suffolk’s residents. All of this at a time when service demand is again on the increase and likely to be as high as we saw during the pandemic.
But although perhaps the two biggest current challenges, the concerns do not stop there. Funding for VCSE organisations is often short term and unsustainable with little contribution to core costs of running the organisation, donations have declined (both financial and material), and the impact of the crisis on staff wellbeing is expected to be significant. According to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), nationally 3 in 5 charity leaders are concerned about people having less money to donate to good causes, and as a result, a third are worried about how their organisation will survive. Our organisations require crucial help to ensure they can support our local communities through this crisis and keep people safe and well.
As Hannah Reid, Deputy Chief Executive at CAS says,
“Suffolk’s VCSE organisations provide a vital lifeline for so many residents in Suffolk, but their own challenges are significant and only likely to increase. Our sector has always been a mainstay of community wellbeing and throughout the pandemic there is no doubt in our minds that volunteers, community groups and organisations saved lives. They are already being called on to do so again and we implore anyone that can help, to do so now. An hour of someone’s time to volunteer, donations to community sharing schemes (food, wood, toys etc.), fundraising support, or anything you can do will go a long way to supporting the sector.”
The worst-case scenarios that could occur without intervention – organisation and group closures leading to increased safeguarding concerns, social isolation and its effects on mental and physical health to give one example – are unthinkable.
Christine Abraham, Chief Executive at CAS adds:
“The last 2 years have seen an incredible amount of partnership working across the Suffolk system and the VCSE sector has supported colleagues in health and local authorities when they needed it most. Our sector needs it now – intervention at national level is key to ensuring our organisations and groups survive through fuel subsidy, long term funding, and national policy to limit the effects of the crisis in a myriad of ways. During Covid 19, national government stepped up to support our sector through their business support grants, furlough schemes and other policy changes – we need them to do so again now and alongside their considerations for the private sector, look at ways they can specifically support VCSE organisations to make it through the months ahead.”
In order to really understand how it is affecting, or how you expect it to affect, your group or organisation; we are holding another focus group conversations to look at some of the key issues you are facing. This is taking place at 2pm on 28th September. If you would like to be involved or would prefer a 1:1 conversation, please contact Hannah Reid as soon as possible