“Charities play a fundamental role in our civic life. They are often in the front line of support for the most vulnerable and are therefore in the best place to assess their needs. They not only provide. They inspire and innovate and through their advocacy help shape our laws, government policies and society as a whole.”
(House of Lords Select Committee on Charities report 2017)
We live in interesting times. As national government cuts funding to local government and health, our local public sector is now reducing statutory services provided to the public. This includes services they buy in from local partners, including charities. As a result, many local charities are now facing a devastating double hit of rising demand from those in need, and reduced funding to support the people they are committed to help. They must now rely on their resilience and ability to adapt.
The role of charities in public services is not a new one. Long before there was a public sector, charities were the only providers of services to the public and those in need. Hospitals and schools, for example, all started this way. A charity should only ever undertake an activity because it is in the best interests of its beneficiaries and keeping that as an absolute principle is at the heart of why charities can deliver services for the communities in such a powerful way. They're not just cheaper. They provide support with people - with volunteers, businesses, local and national donors and foundations and the communities around them. Charities enable us to help each other.
The charitable sector has faced negative national media coverage over the last few years, especially following the fall of Kids Company. Ironically, the factors that contributed to that one situation will have little resonance for our local charities, as our charitable sector, like our business sector, is largely made up of small and medium sized organisations. Over half of our charities in Suffolk have an income of under £10,000 and rely almost entirely on volunteer support.
Of the 2,650 registered charities in Suffolk, just over 40 have an income of over £1 million. While some people blanch at seeming duplication, it's worth remembering that each charity is a local powerhouse, driven by local people determined to make a local difference. Each group creates a hub of committed volunteers and expert staff to serve communities they know well.
These organisations have an extraordinary but often hidden impact for all of us. A recent survey for the Charities Aid Foundation showed that our use of charity services is widespread and increasing, with 98% of us having used a charity at some point and 83% having used a charity service in the last year.
Ipswich is a vibrant and generous town and hosts a wide range of organisations, many of whom meet the sharpest need. Our Hospice is one of the largest charities in Suffolk, well known by all, but many may be unaware of the host of other organisations supporting the young and old, responding to financial, social and health crisis, bringing the community together and supporting wellbeing.
Last year, the Suffolk Community Foundation distributed over £2 million of funding in Suffolk and over £800,000 of these grants were made to Ipswich based organisations. This reflects both the level of need that Ipswich faces, as highlighted in our recent Hidden Needs report. It also reflects the role that Ipswich plays as our county town, providing a base for activities that are delivered across the county.
So, as funding grows ever tighter, what is the future for our local organisations? Charities enable us to come together and change the world and those they support need our help more than ever. With an estimated 78p in every charitable pound raised in Suffolk leaving the county, it's time to look at how we can use local money to tackle local issues more effectively, whether that's our public-sector funding or our local giving.
Wendy Herber (Head of Partnerships, Suffolk Community Foundation)