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CAF Policy Team

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Charities Aid Foundation

How will COVID-19 shape our society?

24 August 2020

CAF submits evidence to the Lord’s COVID-19 Committee on views on life beyond COVID-19

The COVID-19 Committee, appointed in June 2020, has conducted an inquiry into the long-term impact of the pandemic on the economic and societal wellbeing of the UK and what it means for how we will continue to function as a society – looking at the years ahead and also exploring the systemic inequalities in society that the pandemic has highlighted.

From our position in the sector we see how philanthropy and charitable giving can play a crucial role in supporting civil society through the current crisis, and in helping it to recover and rebuild over the longer term.

However, to mobilise generosity on the scale necessary will require additional Government support and stimulus. It is from this perspective that we submitted evidence on the long term implications of COVID-19, both in terms of the immediate pressure we are seeing on charities and the wider societal shifts and emerging social issues with which the sector is intrinsically interwoven.

In our submission we touched upon fives issues:

1. The shape of the charity sector going forward

In this time of unprecedented uncertainty and instability, civil society continues to do vital work across society. It is at the heart of community responses to the crisis, helping the most vulnerable to withstand the impacts of the pandemic, releasing pressure on our national services, continuing to provide vital services and bringing communities together.

But the pandemic has impacted charity income, forced changes in operations and resulted in increased costs. CAF’s charity polling 3 months into lockdown found that demand for charity services was still increasing, and that still half surveyed were reporting that they would not survive more than a year without further support. The shape of the charity sector going forward will be defined both by CSOS’ ability to continue supporting communities affected by coronavirus now and in the immediate future, and the extent to which government and funders pitch in with a longer term perspective to ensure that there is a strong charity sector able to rspond to national needs once the peak of the pandemic has passed.

2.  Can we build on the outpouring of mutual and volunteering?

The initial response to the pandemic saw a surge of mutual aid networks springing up across local areas. In the UK voluntary sector, there is a distinction to be made between two clear (if overlapping) traditions: a charitable/philanthropic one and a mutualism/self-help one. The former involves notions of altruism and seeking to address problems one is not oneself affected by, while the latter refers more to people of a similar socio-economic status or within a given community of identity collectively supporting one another.

The pandemic is unlike almost any crisis in living memory in that it affects all of us (even if not equally), thus placing more emphasis on the idea of mutual aid and complicating our traditional understandings of fundraising and charitable giving.  Beyond COVID-19, the interesting question is whether this will herald a wider shift towards notions of mutualism, cooperation and collectivism.
Post COVID19 volunteering CAF Lords Submission August 2020

3. Will enforced digitisation stick?

As result of travel restrictions and social distancing measures, a vast number of CSOs have had to pivot towards using digital tools to enable remote working, communication and new ways to deliver services. The question is how much of this enforced digital transformation will stick in the longer term. Will remote working become much more common and result in a more geographically-distributed charity sector workforce? Will some services that were thought to be possible only in person but are now being provided virtually remain so?

We know from our own research that many CSOs struggle with making full use of even existing digital solutions: a CAF survey among almost 400 UK-based charities showed that roughly a quarter of charities (23%) cannot take any kind of digital donations, which will make it harder for them to adapt to the more cash-free environment post-pandemic. From another perspective, the lack of digital access and skills across different geographical areas and different communities raises the concern that CSOs turning digital may only exacerbate exclusion and inequality in some cases. As more parts of society digitise, charities will have to be increasingly on hand to address newer social problems arising from a growing ‘digital divide’.

Post COVID19 schools CAF Lords Submission August 2020

4.  Emerging social issues relevant to the charity sector

In addition to changing perceptions of civil society and opening up opportunities to do things differently, the Covid-19 crisis is likely to create new problems that civil society organisations will be called upon to address in future – from mental health impacts of the pandemic, to the effects of disrupted schooling on children’s development and life chances, or the longer term issues of the short term use of surveillance and data collection etc.

Many CSOs are already under significant pressure simply to maintain or rebuild their core operations in the face of the financial difficulties, so they will need extra support from Government if they are to fulfil their vital role in supporting people and communities facing changing needs in the years to come.

5.  How further giving in the UK can be unlocked to help civil society both respond to the crisis and rebuild effectively

Despite the Government’s package for charities – which was welcomed, the sheer scale of the funding crisis facing charities and the emerging social issues which will fall at their feet down the line means that more support will be needed in both the short and long term. The Government can consider also targeted policies to support and nurture peoples’ ability to give and unlock philanthropic resources towards the sector, as outlined in our Philanthropy Stimulus Package.

Civil society and philanthropy have played a vital role throughout the crisis, in future should be leveraged as strategic elements and partners in response to crises. Beyond just getting enough funding out to support charities, Government must also work to ensure the equitable and effective distribution of funds. Lastly, the case for long-term vision and preparedness, mechanisms for collaboration, foresight and resilience (on the side of the state, funders and CSOs) must be made now, as the cost of delaying ends up borne by the most vulnerable in society.

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