The Spending Review and the Voluntary Sector

Sapphire Mason-Brown, Communications and Programmes Intern at the Barrow Cadbury Trust, considers the potential implications of the Chancellor’s spending review for the voluntary sector.

Last week’s spending review brought little positive news for key departments and affected individuals; the prison budget was reduced by £180m, a 6% cut to the transport resource budget has been proposed and civilian posts in the armed forces have been cut. Some specific components of the review have great implications for charities and those who rely on their services; notably cuts to the welfare budget, local government spending and the Charity Commission’s budget, meaning that times will only get tougher for the sector.

The review sees a 10% cut to local government spending making it particularly hard hit. This comes in addition to the previous 33% real terms cuts to council budgets directly affecting their service provisions. However, Local Enterprise Partnership (LEPs) can bid for funding from a local growth fund of £2bn (lower than the £70bn recommended by Lord Heseltine in his review of economic policies), a move declared to be: “a welcome step in the right direction” by Alex Pratt, chairman of the Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP.

Changes to the welfare budget will likely have the greatest immediate impact on many beneficiaries of charities working with vulnerable communities. A new cap will be introduced to the welfare system affecting housing benefit, tax credits and disability benefits. Alongside the welfare cap comes a cut to the benefits of claimants who do not speak English unless they take language courses and a ‘temperature test’ for winter fuel allowance preventing pensioners living in warm countries from claiming it.

Dubbed the ‘Wonga Week’ by some, the waiting period before jobseekers are able to claim benefits will be extended to seven days from the previous three, which has been perceived as a change that could encourage greater take-up of payday loans. Payday loans have received heightened attention due to an increased reliance on their services, alongside an increase in the sheer amount of debt accumulated from payday loans. On average, the average amount owed on payday loans has increased by £400 to £1657.

Particularly in light of a greater reliance on food banks and increased payday loan debt, the consequences of the welfare cap are potentially significant for both charities and their beneficiaries; as a result, analysis of this will soon be published by NCVO.

The Charity Commissions’ budget will be reduced from £21.4million to £20.4million and the department for Culture, Media and Sport will be cut by 7%.

The resource budgets for the Treasury and the Cabinet Office will be cut by 10%, whilst the Office for Civil Society will retain its funding of £56m and additional support will be provided for the National Citizenship Service.

Issues arising from cuts affecting the sector are twofold, as cuts to welfare and local government spending may lead to a further increased demand for their advice and support services, whilst the Charity Commission faces a direct cut to its funding, potentially reducing it’s ability to support and champion the sector. In the coming weeks NCVO will be working to build a fuller picture of the impact of these changes on voluntary and community organisations.

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