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Beyond the Cuts: Children’s charities adapting to austerity

All the three main political parties have made a welcome commitment to strengthen the voluntary and community sector. For the coalition government, driven by the concept of the Big Society, there is an emphasis on investing in charities to deliver public services and work in partnership with their clients and local leaders to shape services and communities for the better.

NCB’s The Ripple Effect, published in 2011, painted a picture of a vibrant voluntary and community sector, with 64,000 charities working with children and young people and over half of these with children and young people as their primary beneficiaries. Our research demonstrated the important and unique role that children’s voluntary organisations play in reaching diverse communities, engaging service users, and providing flexible, innovative and cost-effective services that centre around the needs of the child. The concept of ‘the ripple effect’ indicates the ways in which children’s charities add value to and improve statutory services.

However, our research revealed early signs of the children’s voluntary sector struggling under both the burden of an economic downturn and decreasing sources of public funding. In fact, we showed that children’s charities were particularly vulnerable to the spending cuts: with public funding providing a greater proportion of their income compared to the voluntary and community sector as a whole. At the same time, children’s charities were less likely than the rest of the voluntary sector to receive income from private businesses – a source of funding which has been increasingly identified as a means of addressing gaps in the public purse.

So, looking to the future, what do government’s spending plans from now until 2015/16 mean for children’s voluntary organisations and the children, young people and families they support? This report provides our best estimate of the extent of reductions in public funding that the children’s voluntary sector can expect to see over the next five years. The report then takes the debate beyond the cuts, and, based on consultation with NCB’s network members, explores how children’s charities are responding and adapting to austerity measures and the barriers they face to doing so. Finally, we offer recommendations for what can be done to ensure that children, young people and families – and the statutory sector – can continue to benefit from a thriving charity sector.