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Charities hunt for new money as public sector funds dry up

Richard Moss | 12:12 UK time, Friday, 1 April 2011

Julie Statton and son Connor

A Barnardo's scheme for disabled children helped Julie Statton and Connor build a better life, but it's now become a victim of funding cuts.

Two years ago Julie Statton was in despair.

She was struggling to cope with her son Connor's Asperger Syndrome - a form of autism.

But then she was offered some support from Barnardo's.

She and her husband were put on a training course, and offered advice on ways of dealing with Connor's behaviour.

The result was life-changing. Before getting the help, she says she felt like she was in a tunnel with no end.

But now the family is thriving, and eight-year-old Connor's confidence has grown enormously.

She was devastated then to find that the scheme was coming to an end.

Barnardo's has lost grant funding from Gateshead Council, and its Disability Access and Inclusion Support Service in the borough is coming to an end.

The council says it just can't afford to fund a non-statutory service at a time when it needs to cut £30m from its budget.

And this is not a good week if you are running a charity, or one of the people benefiting from its services.

The end of March is the end of the financial year, and the end of an era for many as the grants they have relied on for years dry up.

Councils have now implemented their cuts and for many that meant cutting the aid they give to charities.

The Government says councils should look to cut back office costs before hitting charities, but councils say the scale of the cuts leaves with them no choice.

Hartlepool playbus

Hartlepool's playbus is off the road because of a lack of funding.

Hartlepool Families First is another victim of this new age of austerity.

For 20 years, its playbus has been serving communities in and around Hartlepool.

It provided a safe place to play in areas which were often isolated and deprived.

But now it's off the road as the charity as all its funding sources have dried up.

It's been trying for six months to find alternatives but for now it has no choice but to park the bus while it continues the search for new money.

And less than half a mile away, another Hartlepool charity is also getting used to a large reduction in funding.

The Belle Vue Community Sports and Youth Centre has lost almost half of its million pound budget.

Yet there's more optimism there.

It's also received £100,000 from the Government's Transition Fund.

That money is there to help charities who have lost public funding, but recipients also have to show how they will wean themselves away from their dependence on councils and other public bodies.

The charity also provides support for families and training in the community, and it's now bidding for contracts from the NHS and the private sector to make up for the shortfall.

But that is not a model that all charities will be able to follow.

And although the region saw one big act of private philanthropy this week - the £15m donated to save the Zurbaran pictures - will there really be a string of rich people willing to keep local charities running?

If not some fear there may be other consequences.

Julie Statton believes she would have struggled to cope without the help she had from Barnardo's.

She fears families with disabled children will reach crisis point without the support she benefited from. And that could see more money being spent on tackling the consequences of those crises such as marital breakdown and ill health.

She says that could cost the public purse far more than the money being saved by cutting grants.

The Government and councils will have to hope she's wrong.


  • Comment number 1.

    I've just watched today's Politics Show piece on this issue, which was as ever well put together. However, as worthwhile as most of these things are, we come back to the same point that was made well before the general election and subsequently. Where is all the money coming from?

    I think anyone who thinks "taxing the bankers and the rich" is the answer and will bring in the tens of billions of pounds needed every year to plug the deficit really is living in Narnia. Of course the banks made a mess of things, but just about every independent economist I've heard is clear that the last government was spending way beyond its means even before we hit the banking crisis. I know the Labour Party don't accept that, but perhaps that's a major reason why they lost the last election.

    I'm also clear in my own mind, having listened to the various arguments and the independent experts, that the state of the national deficit last year was such that reducing it had to take priority over other things, even if that has resulted in some hard decisions.

    In our own day-to-day budgeting, we have a fixed amount of money every month. We have to divide the cake up as we think best, but at the end of the day there is only so much cake to divide. As deserving as any charity or other recipient of public money may be, for every £1 we give to one body we have to take it from somewhere else.

    I wouldn't mind these constant discussions up here in the North East about the effect of cuts on various services if at the same time those discussions also focus on what other services or grants are going to be cut in their place to pay for them.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks for your comment Andy.

    I'm sure the Labour party would point out that there are others who feel they were right to keep spending to mitigate an economic downturn, but clearly plenty of people hold your view too.

    You make a good point about the need for politicians opposing one set of cuts to outline where they would cut instead (assuming they accept cuts in some form were necessary).

    It is something I ask of Opposition politicians each week, but perhaps unsurprisingly there are few specifics ever suggested.

    Any other opinions on the wisdom of cutting money to charities, and what charities can do as an alternative?

  • Comment number 3.

    You're quite right Richard - I have no doubt the Labour Party would make that argument. To be honest, I accept that there are arguments on either side, both about spending at the height of the recession and bailing out the banks. I'm not even wholly against it myself.

    The point I am making is that the last Government should have done a lot more "saving for a rainy day" during the boom times than they did. I've even heard senior Labour figures (like Tony Blair) agree that they should have begun to reduce spending after the 2005 election, instead of continuing to spend like there was no tomorrow. Had they done so, the structural deficit would have been nothing like it is now and we wouldn't be facing the same depth of cuts.

    Like many people, I give to a number of charities myself. I also undertake some voluntary work. I see little prospect of charities getting large extra cash injections in the next few years, as most individual budgets are being squeezed to pay off the national debt and increasing food and utility prices. But perhaps those who are able to do so might offer a little bit of time to a charity they support.

    I accept that charities need money to function just like everyone else, but money isn't always the only answer to a problem.


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