Charitable and Voluntary Sector

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Excerpts
Thursday 30th April 2020

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB) - Hansard

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.

Baroness Morgan of Cotes Portrait Baroness Morgan of Cotes (Con) - Hansard

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this important debate. I know from my time in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport how important civil society is and how hard the Minister and her colleagues will have worked with Treasury Ministers to put together the support package for charities already announced, which is very welcome, and the other schemes referred to.

In the time available I want to raise three brief but, I hope, important points. First, we have received a lot of lobbying and briefing from the larger charities ahead of this debate. However, I think we all know that it is the tiny charities that make a real difference at the grass roots in this country, for which not a huge amount of money makes a tremendous difference. I draw attention to my registered interest as a director of the Loughborough Wellbeing Café Project, which supports people with mental health problems in this corner of the east Midlands in Leicestershire. It does an awful lot online at the moment because physical meetings are obviously no longer possible.

Secondly, as has been hinted at, there must be a way of making any application process for small charities, and for charities in general, as simple as possible. I draw the attention of the Minister and her officials to a letter that those of us speaking in this debate have received from Lloyds Bank Foundation, which asks a series of questions about access to the National Lottery Community Fund—about definitions and how it will work—and I hope that the Minister might provide some more answers and details on those questions to help charities access that important funding.

Finally, as we are worrying about a second wave with regard to health risks, we also know that there will be second-order economic consequences, including for charities. I therefore add my support for the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, about the medical research charities. The package put in place at the moment is clearly designed to provide immediate crisis funding for our charities, but there are longer-term consequences, particularly for other, non-Covid-related conditions, where funding for medical research is critical. I hope the Government will provide funding to enable those important schemes to restart.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) - Hansard

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?