The Road Ahead

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Government’s economic plans will widen inequalities in communities

Sarah Vibert, NCVO CEO, responds to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

The Chancellor’s statement sets out a sobering picture for the economy in the next few years. Through not rectifying the impact of austerity over the past decade and not addressing the root causes of food and fuel poverty, the measures announced today will lead to poorer outcomes and widening inequalities in communities. This is combined with a commitment to further squeeze public services, which will have a devastating impact on people, communities, and the voluntary sector.

There is a wealth of evidence which demonstrates the power of investing in communities, not least for driving economic growth and reducing regional inequality. This has not been fully acknowledged and human wellbeing is not being prioritised. We're calling for the government to urgently undertake and publish an equality impact assessment into these measures before implementation.

Although uprating some benefits in line with inflation next spring will be a lifeline for many people, it will not come soon enough to prevent people facing poverty this winter. And who will be expected to pick up the slack? Charities and volunteers.

The voluntary sector is a critical part of social infrastructure and has been essential in supporting society through recent crises. From preventing isolation and helping vaccinate millions of people against covid-19, to setting up ‘warm hubs’ and relentlessly gathering food to distribute to people who otherwise would go hungry this winter.

I know that NCVO members have been asking themselves if we are letting government off the hook this winter, by stepping up and plugging the gaps in underfunded public services. Clearly charities are not going to walk away from communities at a time of need. But they cannot be taken for granted. NCVO members are making really tough decisions about what they can and cannot do. Many were forced to spend reserves to survive the pandemic and are now on the verge of buckling under the compounding pressures of increased demand, skyrocketing operational costs, eroding income, and challenges recruiting staff and volunteers.

Energy costs will remain a major concern. People who are struggling already will be worried about paying their bills when the energy price guarantee rises in April. Many more people are likely to seek support from charities. Voluntary organisations are also struggling to plan for the coming years without any certainty about future energy costs. Further government support will be needed for those most in need and the organisations that are supporting them.

Cutting funding for public services will only exacerbate these challenges. Charities are vital partners in the design and delivery of public services, but charitable income cannot replace government funding.

At NCVO, we will continue working with voluntary sector partners and the government to make the case for long-term and system-wide change that supports charities and the communities that they work with. As a country, we have it in our power to solve systemic inequalities that make people poorer. But we must see the right investment to do that.

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