Coronavirus: Government to announce funding for charities hit by outbreak

Andrew Woodcock

The government is set to announce funding support for charities hit by the coronavirus outbreak, cabinet minister Michael Gove has revealed.

The announcement – due within days from culture secretary Oliver Dowden – comes amid increasingly desperate pleas for help from the charitable sector, which the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) estimates is set to lose at least £4.3bn in income over the next 12 weeks.

It came as The Independent launched its Help The Hungry campaign in support of the London Food Alliance, to help get food to those in danger of going hungry because of job losses, isolation or the closure of food banks as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Across Britain, community hubs are being set up in response to the outbreak to deliver food to many of these people, beginning as early as next week. The Independent has teamed up with The Felix Project – a start-up charity we helped launch in 2016 – to deliver produce to hubs in the capital.

Challenged at a Downing Street press conference to commit the government to offer financial and logistical support for initiatives of this kind, Mr Gove paid tribute to the “national solidarity” shown by volunteers across the country, including the 700,000-plus who have come forward to offer their help to the NHS.

And he said: “We will be doing everything we can to support them, and my colleague Oliver Dowden in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), is looking at a specific fund in order to support charities in the work that they do. And we'll be saying more about this in the days to come.”

There was no immediate information available from the DCMS on the nature or size of the fund, or who might benefit from its support.

NCVO chief executive Karl Wilding told The Independent: “We are looking forward to seeing the detail of that and it can’t come soon enough for charities who are making very difficult decisions in the coming days.”

The NCVO said charities had been in conversation with government about a package of support, but believes that without an urgent injection of cash many charities of all sizes will soon start closing their doors.

With charity shops closed and fundraising events and activies cancelled, reserves depleted and demand for services increasing, charities are having to make immediate decisions about their financial viability.

Andrew Wallis, the CEO of anti-slavery charity Unseen welcomed Mr Gove’s comments, but cautioned: “We don't have many days left.”

And the Association of Chairs, which supports charities and social enterprise companies, said in a tweet: “Good to hear Michael Gove say the government plans an announcement on help for charities. Please make it soon, so charities can continue to help those in need.”

More than 200 MPs and peers from parties across the House of Commons have signed a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for help for the charitable sector.

They warned: “Without an immediate injection of money, many charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises of all sizes will soon close. Funds are running out.”

The letter called for immediate emergency funding for the sector, especially where it is alleviating pressure on the NHS or helping people suffering from the impact of Covid-19.

The signatories demanded a stabilisation fund to allow charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises to stay afloat and keep operating during the pandemic.

And they urged ministers to confirm that the charitable sector is eligible for business interruption support announced by Mr Sunak as well as payments to cover 80 per cent of salaries of employees at risk of being laid off because of coronavirus.

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Tracy Brabin said: “It’s good to hear from Michael Gove that Oliver Dowden will be announcing money for charities next week.

“The charitable sector can’t be furloughed but has lost millions in income. The government must support them so they can support us.”

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