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Rising costs impacting charities’ ability to provide support

Wendy Ward


Elderly woman in despair and stressed at her lacking financial situation due to inflation and cost of living rising

There’s no getting away from the cost-of-living crisis. Turn on your TV, radio or scroll through your social feeds and there will be some reference to how expensive it is to do anything at the moment—even simply existing.

Charities who work in health and wellbeing, and those supporting poverty of any kind, will be seeing their beneficiary numbers increase week on week. If it’s not tangible support, such as the provision of food, clothing and basic essentials, it’s support with the fallout of the stress around debt and poverty, i.e. counselling, mental health support, etc.

I know of a small number of charities who are in quite precarious positions. Escalating prices have seen them running at a deficit to provide the support they committed to in their funding agreements.

Sure, it only takes a phone call to said funders with the suggestion that the project is scaled back/cut short. The vast majority of them will agree—they’ll fully understand the reason for your request and the impact of the current financial landscape. Legally, everything will be fine.

But what about the beneficiaries? How heart-breaking will it be to say to them:

· We can’t invite you into the centre/social café because we can’t afford to put the lights/heating on

· We’ve run out of food to distribute or we been unable to collect food that’s perfectly good to eat because we couldn’t afford to put petrol in/insure the van

· We don’t have enough volunteers to run the event/clinic because they’re too ill from the effects of no heating or food to get out of bed

· We can’t give you any help today…we can no longer afford our support staff/commissions

· You’re the only one who’s come along to this event/session, no one else can afford the travel costs

· We’ve had to limit the number of people we can afford to support

· We’re stopping/withdrawing our support; we’re having to wrap up the organisation

At the beginning of the pandemic, grant-making organisations were falling over themselves to give unrestricted funding to charities, to help them stay afloat as Covid made its impact. Two years on, with a new crisis to survive (and one that’s just as significant a threat to people’s health and lives), will those same grant-makers be as proactive in getting funds to the organisations that need it?

Woman calculating her finances on her laptop and calculator.

Woman calculating her finances on her laptop and calculator.

It’s not a time for grant-makers to fund pretty projects—you know, those that make their newsletters sound interesting and unique. Charities need help with the basics…the paying of the electricity bills; meeting the staff’s wages; ensuring the vehicles, venues and equipment they typically use to deliver their brand of support are still available. It’s no good funding a weekly class that has an incredible impact on its beneficiaries if there’s nowhere to hold it and no one to run it.

It always amazes me how low a priority core costs are in the third sector. What do they tell you when you’re on an aeroplane in the event of a crash? Put the oxygen mask over yourself before you attempt to do the same to those around you. This is the exact same premise…if charities can’t cover their running costs, those pretty projects won’t take place and every beneficiary will be negatively impacted. Businesses are feeling the pinch, as is the general public. From where do grant-making organisations expect charities to magic up the money for their running costs? ‘Sponsor our staff’s toilet flushes’ doesn’t have much of a ring to it.

Of course I understand that charities shouldn’t rely on grant funding to exist, that they should make the sustainability of their organisations an absolute priority. At the same time, however, prices have escalated so high so quickly that very few charities could have established a new income stream in that same timeframe.

Charities are often seen as the last bastion of hope for people who have tried every other avenue of support. It can happen, that people fall through the cracks…e.g. they’re not eligible for support for one reason or another; they’re homeless and not able to claim the same support as everyone else; e.g. their postcode/age eliminates them from a project’s specifics; they can’t access the help on offer because they can’t afford the travel costs; they’re not able to arrange/afford childcare; they distrust the authorities and anyone trying to support them; language barriers; they’re simply too overwhelmed to seek help…the list could go on. If charities, as the last port of call for someone who needs help, can’t afford to give their support…well, that’s game over, isn’t it?

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