Passing the baton, not jumping ship

Children’s Society chief executive Ian Sparks
on the charity’s painful decision to withdraw from Wales after 113

Community Care got it right; essential
services to children are being subsidised by charities (Comment,
page 5, 22 November). That is an uncomfortable reflection on the
state of welfare in England and Wales today, but it’s a fair

So what happens when a charity’s income falls
behind its expenditure, when the cost of providing services becomes
too great and projects have to close? Well, the gap in statutory
provision becomes very apparent. This is the reality of the story
behind the Children’s Society’s decision to withdraw from

Wales is one of the poorest countries in
Europe. We work with some of the most vulnerable children and young
people there. But we are subsidising our operations in Wales by
over £1m a year. Charities require a secure financial base,
and when income consistently falls short of expenditure, the
sustainability of the work comes into question. We had no
alternative but to withdraw from Wales.

Our own efforts to increase our income have
been frustrated. For example, our applications for grants were not
approved by the Welsh assembly.

We are offering to find ways of transferring
our support and resources in Wales to an appropriate body –
possibly the Church in Wales – so services can continue after our
withdrawal. The task force set up by health minister Jane Hutt
offers a way forward. But it needs to ask who is going to fund
these services. All the indignation and anger in the world will not
provide the answer. Unless there is a commitment to provide
funding, these services will cease to function.

For the past 113 years our work in Wales has
been subsidised by donations from our supporters in England and
Wales. Now we have to ask others to start where we have left off
and to make good the difference in funds. The bulk of our work in
Wales is based around advocacy services, which are now a statutory
requirement there. Is it right that these services should be
subsidised by charities? We believe that the voluntary sector’s
role is to innovate and that income should be invested in
pioneering programmes rather than subsidising statutory

We now have a practical task ahead. In the
immediate future we need to ask where the money will come from to
continue services in Wales. And then we must turn towards the
long-term future and ask how much is the public prepared to invest
in essential services for all children.

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