An interesting report on the Guardian’s Voluntary Sector website gives an insight of the state of the charity sector in Ireland, and suggests that many of the challenges facing Britain’s charities are being mirrored across the Irish Sea.
The report cites data from the Revenue Commissioners (the Irish equivalent of HMRC) which shows a 15% reduction in charitable contributions between 2009 and 2011, as well as a recent survey by a Charity Umbrella organisation called The Wheel which concluded that 60% of Irish charities have seen a fall in funding since 2009.
Combined with a reduction in state funding, the report argues, means that charities are “under greater pressure to do more with less.” This reflects the experiences of charities in Britain who are struggling to cope with a reduction in funding from government, a drop in donations, and rising demand for the services they provide.
The Irish charity sector is substantial, accounting for the employment of 6% of the working population (compared to 2.7% in the UK) and generating an income of 3% of Irish GDP. But it is not designed to deal with this increased pressures, and the effects of such a rise in demand are starting to bite. So severe are these pressures that 75% of Irish non-profits have been forced to reduce pay, introduce pay freezes or reduce working hours just to stay afloat.
This highlights the impact that the economic climate is having on charities, who are being forced to adjust and reduce in size just to stay afloat. In Britain, we know that 17% of charities fear being forced to close in the next year, and that 40% fear closure if the wider economic climate does not improve. Strengthening the global economy is of course beyond the powers of charities, but until growth does pick up the outlook for charities looks set to remain gloomy. These challenges are why the Back Britain’s Charities campaign has been launched, and bringing charities together to champion the sector’s work and highlight the challenges we all face is helping to make a real difference.
The article does acknowledge that Irish charities have been able to retain staff – partly because many staff as so loyal to the causes that they serve – and that many are enacting innovative and exciting policies to save money where possible, and ensuring that all donations they receive can go as far as possible. This is more important than ever when times are tight.
As the World Giving Index 2012 records, the Irish charitable sector remains strong – one of the strongest in the world. The challenge for policy makers is to ensure that this intrinsic strength is not eradicated by the struggles of the economy, and for government to work with charities to ensure that vulnerable people still have somewhere to turn.