Charities held back by ‘serious data gap’, think tank warns

The charity sector is blighted by a lack of data about its value and effectiveness, according to research by Pro Bono Economics.

The think tank warns that this data gap is “holding charities back” and means government and charity leaders are “often operating in the dark”, regarding the importance to the UK economy of the sector, which employs almost a million people.

Its research warns that much of the data in the charity sector “is stuck in unreadable formats” and is lagging behind the private sector’s use of statistics.

It wants to see regularly published social sector data, which is available through accessible digital formats such as PDFs.

A ‘Social Sector Data Standards and Co-ordination Working Group’ should be set up, involving charities and government, to plug gaps in data, the research adds.

In addition, it reiterates its call made earlier this year for ‘social economy satellite accounts’ to be created so that official statistics on the sector’s contribution to the economy are published and can be compared to private sector economic data.

“There is a chasm between the information we have on businesses and the information we have on charities right now,” said Pro Bono Economics research and policy director Anoushka Kenley.

“The public funds charities to deliver crucial contracts such as adoption services and to provide social and mental health care, yet up-to-date data doesn’t exist on how much government funding the sector receives.

“Tens of millions of people volunteer each year, yet we can’t calculate with any accuracy whether more people volunteer for homelessness charities or food banks.”

The research has been published by Pro Bono Economics in a report for its research project the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, which is chaired by former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell.

Among sector leaders to back the report is NCVO interim chief executive Sarah Vibert.

“This timely report is much-needed and captures where we find ourselves as a sector,” she said.

“We fully endorse the recommendations in the report, particularly the establishment of a joint-owned and funded cross-sector Social Sector Data Standards and Co-ordination Working Group.”

Tania Cohen, chief executive of 360 Giving, which helps organisations publish grants data, added: “We need to engage in a collective effort to put in place the infrastructure for the future to understand and value the social sector.

“We need more and better-quality data to inform strategy, policy and practice in order to maximise the impact for communities and make the best use of funds available."

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