Many believe that 2019 is going to be historic for the UK, a year of continued uncertainty and challenge. However, with uncertainty comes opportunity.
The VCSE sector has a strong history of rising up to address new challenges in society, shaping the future and ensuring the voices of communities and individuals are heard.
We are two weeks into January and we have already seen significant political and policy developments of interest to the sector and opportunities to build upon developments and announcements from the previous year.
NHS Long Term Plan
This week saw the release of the NHS Long Term Plan; setting out how the NHS will be made fit for the future. The Plan details improvements the NHS would like to make over the next decade, from giving every child the best start in life to improving care for major conditions and helping people to age well, and how it intends to achieve these improvements addressing the challenges that the NHS faces.
Jane Hartley, VONNE’s Health and Wellbeing Associate, will be writing a blog to on the Plan and implications for the VCSE sector in the next couple of weeks.
Poverty and welfare reform
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s annual report on Poverty in the UK highlights the very real levels of rising poverty in the UK, especially amongst children and working families. There are about 4.5 million children living in poverty in the UK.
Rising poverty is a primary concern of the sector, demand for services across the sector increases as more individuals and families reach crisis point and their financial circumstances impact many other areas of their lives including mental and physical health, family relationships and alcohol and drug dependency.
The House of Commons debated UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston's visit to the UK and initial statement of his findings. MPs described the Government’s response to the UN report as “shameful” — and levels of child poverty and its treatment of disabled people as “unacceptable”.
The Labour MP for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, led the debate saying:
“Unlike the Government, who have treated Professor Alston’s well-evidenced and thorough statement with complete and utter disdain, I want to personally thank him for his conviction in passionately highlighting the absolute shame, degradation, and harm that this Government are inflicting on those they govern, which has led to 14 million people living in poverty.”
I met with Philip Alston when he visited Newcastle in November to outline the potential impact of Brexit on poverty in the UK and the need for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund to address the economic impacts on those most disadvantaged in the UK. In a few months Professor Alston will produce his final report and VONNE, alongside others such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, will do what we can to use this report to continue to apply pressure on the Government to meaningfully address current and growing levels of poverty in the UK.
The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd this week also scrapped the two-child limit on Universal Credit benefits for families with children born before the limit was in force and announced a slowing-down of the transition over to Universal Credit.
Both of these are welcome announcements but don’t go far enough to address the rising levels of child poverty. Other MPs have called this week for a Minister for Hunger to respond to a growth in food insecurity in the UK - especially among children, but many in the sector have responded that this should be addressed by Home Secretary and Dept. for Work and Pensions in terms of impact of welfare reform and addressing poverty more widely.
Civil Society Strategy and Civil Society Futures
2018 saw the publication of two key documents, one setting out how “Government will work with and for civil society in the long-term to create a country that works for everyone”, and the other posing a set of principles, practices and questions that civil society organisations can use to help develop our organisations and work to address the current and future needs of society.
The acknowledgement of the importance of civil society and the need for the sector to transform over time are both welcome and in 2019 VONNE will be supporting the North East VCSE sector to respond. There is great opportunity to increase the use and effectiveness of digital technology in the sector and develop innovative ways of working, providing services and developing collaborations, and we will be providing opportunities to enable this.
And finally, Brexit. As we enter the final weeks before withdrawal day (29 March) there is still little clarity. VCSE organisations need to prepare, but with so many potential scenarios many are reluctant to devote significant time to this.
Brexit (in whatever form) is widely expected to have a negative impact on the UK economy, which is likely to mean even greater demand on VCSE organisations and potentially further reductions of funding, contract values and fundraising income. Organisational and financial resilience will be key to surviving the (likely) difficult years ahead so organisations need to invest resources now on:
- strengthening their leadership and governance,
- utilising digital and innovation to make better use of resources available through more effective and efficient working and,
- as much as possible shoring up their finances and looking to diversify income streams.
VONNE will be supporting the sector to address these necessities through a number of programmes and projects currently under development.
Finally, further work to inform and influence the development of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be key in the months ahead to ensure that the replacement funding addresses the needs of the most disadvantaged communities and individuals.