Tonight will see representatives from the five biggest UK-wide political parities come head-to-head at the Social Leaders Debate. Speakers will spar over their party’s vision for the future of the charity sector, and have the chance to explain to the audience how, if elected, they could make life that bit easier for the thousands of charities that do so much good in the UK.
But what is the reality of life in the charity sector? Today, CAF and ACEVO have published ‘Social Landscape: The state of charities and social enterprises in 2015,’ a report which examines current attitudes and concerns held by charity leaders. The aim of the report is to make it easier to understand the challenges that the sector faces, and to help communicate the scale and nature of these challenges to policy makers.
The most startling finding from the report is that one in seven charity chief executives says that their organisation is ‘struggling to survive.’ Even more worryingly, this figure rises to one in five amongst the smaller charities with an income of less than £1 million that make up 96% of the charity sector.
These concerns seem to derive from a sense of financial insecurity that still surrounds much of the sector, despite the return of growth to the economy. More charity leaders are pessimistic than optimistic about the overall economic climate, and a third of charities have been forced to dip into their reserves to cover income shortfalls in the past year.
At the same time, demand for the services that charities provide has continued to increase. 78% of charities have been forced to deal with rising demand in the past year, and even more anticipate a further increase in demand over the next twelve months. Better news, and a reminder of how innovative the sector is, comes from the finding that 82% of charity leaders believe that their organisation is well equipped to deal with such an increase.
With the election growing closer each day, there are two findings that are particularly relevant for the election campaign. Firstly, two-thirds of charity chief executives believe that people do not really understand the importance of charities to Britain today. Despite this, there is optimism about continued public support for the sector, but there remains a need for charities and government to properly communicate the role that charities play in modern life. Only by making it clear how many people rely on charities, as our Charity Street report does, can we raise awareness of the value of charities and secure support for their work now and in the future.
Secondly, 59% of charity leaders are pessimistic about government support for the sector. It is important that charities feel adequately supported by government, but also retain the freedom and confidence to focus on their core activities. The election campaign gives political parties a chance to put forward their vision for the future of the sector, and use it as a way of making their case to charity leaders, staff and beneficiaries. Post-election, government needs to commit to developing a healthy dialogue with the sector, and the election campaign provides a useful starting point in that process.
That’s why tonight’s Social Leaders Debate is so important. We’ll see representatives from parties clash over a number of pertinent policy areas, including some of those mentioned in the Social Landscape report. A handful of places are still available, and you can find out more information here. Unable to come along? We’ll be live-streaming the event from 7pm tonight – keep an eye on our twitter account for details.