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Funding for “at risk” communities

Vicky Browning writes about signing #CharitySoWhite open letter.

A couple of weeks ago #CharitySoWhite asked ACEVO to sign an open letter calling for all those involved in the sector relief package discussions to:

  1. Ensure that there are at least two individuals on steering or oversight groups for funding set up who have a significant track record of championing race equality in funding. 
  2. Ensure 20% of funding is ring fenced for BAME VCS groups, managed directly by BAME infrastructure organisations.

While fully backing the first demand, my initial thought was that ACEVO should not support ringfenced funding for a specific group. The cross-sector Every Day Counts campaign calling for government funding to support the services our sector delivers has specifically resisted any attempt to carve up the charity sector into those ‘more worthy’ of funding. The campaign has always been about making sure all charities can continue their work with individuals and communities during the crisis, and that as many as possible will be there to support them when the pandemic is over.

However, as I discussed with our speakers in ACEVO’s webinar on an equitable response to COVID-19, not all communities will be equally impacted by COVID-19. It is clear that people from low income backgrounds, BAME people and disabled people are all being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the lockdown measures rightly put in place to reduce its transmission.

Last week analysis by the Guardian found that 68% of NHS staff known to have died from COVID-19 were BAME. A study from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre found that BAME patients accounted for 33.6% of patients critically ill with the virus, despite accounting for 14% of the population (census 2011). An inquiry has now been announced by the government into why BAME people have been disproportionately impacted.

The Every Day Counts campaign resulted in the chancellor announcing a relief package of £750m for charities working directly on COVID-19. Unfortunately, the chancellor did not announce support for a ‘stabilisation fund’ that would have enabled as many charities as possible to continue working in the public benefit throughout the pandemic, and help them keep the doors open to aid the recovery once lockdown is over.

The £750m fund announced by the chancellor is split into two pots of money; £370m to be distributed by the National Lottery Community Fund, and £360m to be distributed through government departments. That £360m includes £200m specifically for hospices, leaving £160m for other charities across all other government departments. There is no formalised, open, unified or transparent decision process about how that funding will be distributed by government departments, meaning that it is unlikely that much will be given to charities that have not already got funding relationships with government.

It is therefore urgent that we think about how the £370m distributed by the National Lottery can get to those communities where evidence is saying there is greatest need. In a climate where decisions are being made quickly, and to ensure that funding will reach BAME led specialist organisations, I have decided to add ACEVO’s name to #CharitySoWhite’s call for 20% of the announced funding to be ringfenced for BAME organisations.

There are other specialist, community led civil society organisations supporting other disproportionately impacted groups which also need support. Signing up to #CharitySoWhite’s requests does not negate this, but refusing to sign up to it on the basis that others are in need is just a form of ‘whataboutery.’ BAME led voluntary groups are also a wide ranging group of charities and many will be dealing with intersections of need, for example mental health, disability, gender equality and socio-economic status. I invite other voluntary sector groups who are under-represented and responding to increased need to contact me to discuss how we can amplify and support your work.

Relief money should go where the need for relief is greatest. In an ideal world, it would be a given that it would be distributed to a range of different organisations without the need for ring-fencing. But we know that many charities, especially community led and specialist charities, entered the crisis already underfunded and underrepresented, which means urgent action needs to be taken to ensure they are represented now.

To finish I want to draw on some of the recommendations for augmenting UK disaster preparedness that arose from Muslim Aid’s review of the voluntary sector response to the Grenfell tragedy.

“Draw on local capacities: In a major, complex disaster, local secular and faith organisations, although they may not have experience in emergency response, can draw on their local rootedness to act quickly and sensitively in line with the needs of communities they understand. This capability needs to be better appreciated and supported including in partnership with local authorities and national actors with expertise in emergency response.

“Context matters: Disaster response systems, behaviours and interventions all need to be tailored to the varying local socio-economic and cultural dynamics in the short and longer term.

“Embrace diversity within emergency response: Diverse communities need to receive support that is sensitive to their varying needs. Such capabilities need to be embraced as core to emergency response in the UK going forward.”

This is the time to demonstrate that we have learnt from what has gone wrong in the past in order to build a fairer future.

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