Voluntary organisations under pressure due to welfare reform, NCVO report finds

Research carried out by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has found that voluntary organisations such as cancer charities, homeless shelters and advice services have experienced greater demand for their services as a result of welfare reforms.

The report reflects on the experiences of voluntary organisations and the extent to which the government’s objectives of simplifying the benefits system, protecting the most vulnerable and incentivising work are being met.

According to the report, a rise in demand for voluntary organisations’ services during the welfare reform period was coupled with cuts to government funding for charities of £1.7bn from 2010-11 to 2012-13. While some organisations were able to adapt their services to focus on assisting people with welfare changes, others reported having to turn service users away due to lack of capacity. Some organisations were spending a majority of their time helping claimants to appeal against sanctions or accompanying them to appointments, which reduced the time they were able to spend on other areas of work.

Voluntary organisations also reported that welfare reforms were creating additional barriers for some service users. For example, the requirement to apply for a certain number of jobs meant some vulnerable claimants applied to jobs that were unsuitable, and the high number of rejections they received lowered their self-esteem and could increase anxiety. Others received inaccurate information about the impact of volunteering on their claim or were not informed about additional assistance they were eligible to receive.

The report found that despite these challenges, some organisations are pioneering an innovative approach to delivering services with partners across other sectors. For example, Harlesden Jobcentre Plus has partnered with the local voluntary and private sectors to provide a ‘community desk’ staffed by people from community groups, which has helped to overcome language barriers and contributed to a reported 15% reduction in the claimant count over one year. In other areas, local YMCAs are working in partnership with public and private landlords to identify suitable moving-on accommodation for young people.

A core recommendation of the report is that voluntary organisations should be involved in the design of future reforms, kept up to date on latest developments and invited to share their data and expertise. NCVO also recommends better training of Jobcentre staff to ensure that information, particularly around volunteering, is accurate.

Charlotte Ravenscroft, head of policy and public services at NCVO, said:

We know that voluntary organisations have local knowledge, networks and trust from service users which means they are often well placed to help people navigate reforms. They can also contribute valuable insights from the frontline to inform better policy making. However, this report highlights the challenges voluntary organisations face, from funding cuts, to an expectation that charities will fill the gaps in statutory provision, to inadequate information from government on the timing and nature of the reforms. Voluntary organisations can play a valuable role in tailoring and joining up service provision – this report shows that they must be more involved.

Notes

  • The report, ‘Welfare Reform: Voices from the Voluntary Sector, was partly supported by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, to enable NCVO to strengthen the voluntary sector's voice in welfare reform through participatory processes and networking with members. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is an independent organisation working to inspire social change through research, policy and practice. For more information visit www.jrf.org.uk
  • Research was carried out in 2014 and comprised a national consultation with 57 submissions, focus group discussions with 34 voluntary organisations from five local authorities, and twelve in-depth interviews.
  • For more information please contact Helen Raftery, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 020 7520 2424
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