Voluntary sector cuts threaten Big Society vision

Government’s Big Society vision damaged by depth of spending cuts

(picture: Residents at the Epilepsy Society’s Chalfont Centre in Buckinghamshire could see placements terminated due to cuts. See case studies)

Voluntary social care organisations are being devastated by public spending cuts that threaten to undermine the government’s Big Society agenda, research by Community Care reveals.

The survey of 119 adult care and children’s charities finds two-thirds have seen their total funding from councils cut and 41% have shed staff in 2010-11.

The situation is expected to worsen in 2011-12 with 89% expecting to see their overall funding reduced and 82% anticipating making job cuts.

The poll also reveals a deep mistrust of the government’s Big Society vision to devolve responsibility for public services to voluntary and community groups, with more than twice as many people believing it is merely a cover for cuts as those who did not.

“It appears driven by political dogma, with no real substance,” said one respondent from a disabled people’s organisation.

The anticipated cuts in funding reflect last month’s local government funding settlement, which will see average cuts of 11.6% in councils’ block grant from the government in 2011-12.

Our survey finds smaller organisations have been worst hit, with 39% losing at least 10% of their funding from councils this year, a fate experienced by just 3% of the largest charities. Smaller charities also anticipated bigger cuts in 2011-12 than larger counterparts.

The survey finds children’s charities have been far worse affected than adult organisations, with 16 times as many experiencing cuts of 10% or more in the past year.

“If the Big Society agenda means anything then community organisations have to be at its heart and if you are cutting them off at the knees then it won’t work,” said Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations.

Bubb added that cuts in public funding, VAT rises and an end of some tax breaks for voluntary groups were a lethal combination, which would ultimately hit the most vulnerable people.

Emily Thornberry, shadow minister for care services, said: “The survey shows the government talk of the Big Society to be the sham that it really is.”

Many smaller voluntary organisations are likely to face closure over the coming years as a result of the cuts, said John Adams, general secretary of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group.

Des Kelly, executive director of the National Care Forum, said he expected the sector to become dominated by big organisations.

“This is a sector that is so heavily regulated that cutting staffing isn’t something you can do without cutting services.”

Nick Davies, policy officer at Children England, which represents children’s charities, said councils’ overuse of short term contracts and a lack of organisational development funding made it difficult to keep staff in the sector. He said this problem was being exacerbated by funding cuts.

“It is almost impossible to plan services at the moment so we will lose staff because they have to be given sufficient redundancy notice or they will leave for other, more secure, jobs,” said one large children’s services provider.

“Once the staff leave, it will be very difficult to restart services if money does become available.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The voluntary sector cannot be immune from reductions in public expenditure, because the scale of the challenge to reduce the national debt is so great.”

Read more on Community Care’s survey of voluntary organisations including case studies and social workers’ comments

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