Responding to the pandemic has required a concerted effort from everyone across the country. Like so many others, Neighbourly has been doing all it can to get urgent support to vulnerable communities, in partnership with our network of businesses and local causes. It has been relentless and with poverty, hunger and mental health problems in our communities continuing to rise, we must find ways to work together to ensure this support continues.
If we are to ensure a recovery in which nobody is left behind, the feelings of common purpose and shared endeavour that this crisis has caused must be harnessed to create a new social contract between government, businesses and charities. We must collectively step up, not step back.
Our new research with almost 1,000 local charity partners across the country has reiterated that people of all ages face severe hardship that isn’t going away. Almost three quarters of those surveyed – including foodbanks, homeless shelters, care homes and youth groups – expect the numbers of people in need to increase over the next six months. People who were previously struggling are now finding it impossible to make ends meet each week and research from the Food Foundation shows that almost five million people in the UK are currently experiencing food insecurity.
At exactly the same time, the services that many local charities provide are under threat. Recent analysis finds that nearly two-thirds of local charities have been forced to make significant cuts to services and one in eight expect to go bankrupt within months. This is hugely concerning; local charities who are best placed to use their intimate street level knowledge to know what’s needed and respond quickly, ensuring that people in their communities receive the help they need without delay.
We need policy makers, business leaders and individuals to maintain their support for their community and help existing grassroots organisations. While there will be a temptation to build something new as a pandemic recovery response, there are already a multitude of hyper-local causes working day in, day out to deliver food and other essential support. They know the people in their community on a named basis and have proved their ability to deliver over the last 12 weeks. We need to keep that lifeline alive.
The Government recently announced an additional £63m of local welfare assistance for councils to use to help vulnerable families. While certainly welcome, the scale of the challenge we face means this is just a start. Many communities face long-term hardship, and so we need a long-term change in our collective approach to create a new social contract.
This means many more businesses forging meaningful partnerships with community causes, to get donations of money, food and time to where it’s most needed. It means many more employees taking part in volunteering from home in the coming weeks and months, sharing their skills remotely to support front-line charities and helping to build capacity and resilience. It means policy makers prioritising the causes that so many communities depend on.
If we can channel support into local organisations that are already on the ground, not only can we meet the increased demand now – we can rebuild stronger, more resilient and fairer communities for the future.
Thriving communities mean a thriving economy; the link between our communities and our businesses, charities and policy makers needs to be stronger than ever before if we are to successfully rebuild from this crisis. Local community causes are key to our recovery and future. It’s all of our responsibility to help them.
Steve Butterworth, CEO, Neighbourly