Autumn Statement criticised for not going far enough

Chancellor Philip Hammond has failed to impress the whole sector with his first major fiscal announcement, with many charity leaders unhappy with the amount of voluntary support in this week's Autumn Statement.

There was additional funding for particular causes alongside improvements to social investment tax relief and Gift Aid. However, many have called for a greater commitment to charities given the increasing demands on the sector in difficult times.

Hammond announced £102m in further funding through bank fines, which along with the freeze in fuel duty was welcomed by Charity Finance Group chief executive Caron Bradshaw. But she said the overall statement showed charities are not high up the government's agenda.

“This Autumn Statement must mark the end of the mantra that 'there is no money left' and that charities should be happy with their lot,” Bradshaw said. “We have seen tens of billions promised in infrastructure spending, business rate cuts and personal tax cuts. Most of this has been financed by greater levels of borrowing. There isn’t a lack of money, there is simply a lack of political will to support the valuable work of our sector.”

Combat Stress chief executive Sue Freeth was grateful for the Libor funding, which will play a part in providing for the 71 per cent increase in referrals the charity has seen over the past five years. The charity has had to dip into its reserves to meet demand over the past two years.

“This Libor funding will go towards supporting veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) specifically those who need to attend the intensive treatment programmes enabling us to provide community assessment and follow up support. This funding will help us to engage with ex-servicemen and women and help them access treatment as quickly as possible.”

Asheem Singh, interim chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, characterised the Autumn Statement as a “sticking plaster”, which lacked vision on how to bring vital public services through a troubled economy.

Additional funding for the NHS was welcome, Singh said, as was the living wage increase, the commitment not to introduce future welfare cuts, and the increased investment in Local Growth Funds and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

However, the Libor funding was not provided in line with guidance on good grant making, and there were questions over whether grants like this are in the public’s best interest.

“Had the Government chosen to deploy this money towards investment in the quality and support of charity governance it would have demonstrated that it has learned the lessons of Kids Company, lessons that cannot be ignored if the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable are to be met,” Singh said.

National Association of Voluntary and Community Action chief executive Neil Cleeveley said the Chancellor had acted in a “disappointingly traditional” manner, and called for a more radical approach to match the times.

“There is a growing consensus that inequality not only hurts people and communities but hampers long-term economic performance” Cleeveley said. “As a society we need a debate about how we want wealth and power distributed. As part of this I would like the Chancellor to recognise the many ways in which charities support people to improve their own lives rather seeing charities’ relationship with the state being defined in terms of public service delivery.”

Big Society Capital’s director strategy and market development Simon Rowell said the statement was a step forward for social investment tax relief. The increase to the size of investment that can be raised using SITR will enable “younger, dynamic” charities and social enterprises to use capital to boost their operations.

“However, whilst some helpful improvements have been made, SITR still needs to be put on a level playing field with other private tax relief schemes, such as EIS and VCT. Therefore, we implore the Chancellor to consider how the government should be further supporting investment into the social sector to encourage innovation and growth, but also to reach more people in need.”

Power to Change CEO Vidhya Alakeson said the Government’s efforts to support ‘just about managing’ families are at risk from a “gloomy” economic backdrop.

Vital community services are under threat with the continued squeeze on local authority budgets, Alakeson said. In many areas the only option to maintain services like libraries and leisure facilities will be to work with local authorities to take them over and run them as community businesses.

“This can improve services by bringing them closer to those they are intended to benefit. The growth of community business can help beleaguered local authorities improve what they offer their citizens, while meeting the now almost impossible financial challenge of another parliament of cuts.”

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