Charitable and Voluntary Sector DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Baroness Morgan of CotesMain Page: Baroness Morgan of Cotes (Conservative) - Loughborough)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for allowing us to engage in this important conversation together to seek answers. I declare my known interest as chancellor of Regent’s University London, which is a UK registered charity.
In the next academic year, all UK universities expect a major reduction in fee income from international students, both EU and non-EU. For Regent’s University in particular, as a registered charity, where 80% of our student population is international and comes from 140 different countries, this will obviously have a massive impact on our finances. It is a major blow to our positioning as an educational flag-carrier for Britain’s place in the world.
For the sector as a whole, even a 50% fall in international fee income, combined with the degree of deferral for home students, will result in the loss of over £3.1 billion of income in the next year. Some UK universities, as the Office for Students will know, have high levels of external borrowing and low levels of cash reserves. Regent’s is fairly typical in having about five to six months of liquidity. We know that all universities will be affected by the drop-off of international students, but those universities that have charitable status do not have the opportunity to act as commercial or public universities may do, with the same breadth. I have written to Ministers in the Department for Education on these matters and have not had the courtesy of a reply. Could the Minister inquire of Ministers in the department whether they might respond?
Universities may be able to take account of some of the Government’s coronavirus job retention schemes. However, the money that may be required to hold universities together, particularly international support universities, will be substantial and some kind of support programme for the next six months will be essential to preserve our vital university education sector.
My Lords, on 27 March the Welsh Government announced an initial fund of £24 million to support Wales’s voluntary sector in response to the pandemic. The fund will support three distinct areas of activity: helping charities and third sector organisations financially through the crisis by providing direct financial support; helping more people volunteer; and helping volunteering services by supporting third sector organisations as well as strengthening essential third sector infrastructure, including the Volunteering Wales platform.
The primary issue for charities, however, is survival. After 10 years of austerity, they had already been cut to the very bone before this situation hit. Sickness levels of staff in charities have gone up, while organisations have seen an increased need for services, and calls for mediation and safeguarding are rising exponentially. Charities are also having to spend vast sums on PPE and sanitation products.
The charity Llamau works with young homeless people in Wales, and its chief executive, Frances Beecher, recently told me that her staff, who are working with vulnerable and already traumatised young homeless people struggling with lockdown, need all the expertise, resources and help to support them. The other big issue she raised was the lack of fundraising opportunities to bridge the gap between the income that charities receive and the cost of delivering services. It has been decimated: Llamau will lose over £600,000 this year.
Charities started as people were falling through the net of statutory support. The safety nets are now mainly with charities; it is where the knowledge and expertise are left. Many charities, especially regional and service delivery ones, will go to the wall. The fight to end youth homelessness or to combat domestic abuse will be stalled; the human cost will be huge. However, the financial costs will also be huge for statutory services, the criminal justice system and, indeed, mental health services. More support must be leveraged into the charity sector to prevent it being decimated. The Welsh Government have implemented measures, but they too need more funding. Can the Minister ensure that the UK Government also support charities and the voluntary sector with extra funding during these extraordinary times in which we live?