Drowning Not Waving

by Kenneth Ferguson, Regional Head (Scotland), CSJ Foundation. 

When we set up the CSJ office in Scotland in September 2023, the first thing we wanted to do was to know what was happening at the grassroots for charities in Scotland and to this end we did two things. Firstly, we polled 1000 people in Scotland and secondly, we invited 80 of the brightest and best chief executives from the small grassroots charities in Scotland to come together to tell us what they saw. Both pieces of research gave a consistent and worrying message saying we are drowning not waving!

The results of the polling showed shockingly that 82% of the public saw that poverty had got worse due to failing public services and also decreased funding to charities. Unfortunately, the budget cuts in the coming year suggest that this will get much worse as the Scottish Government tries to balance its finances.

What did the charities see? Firstly, they too saw poverty increasing particularly “in work” and child poverty. In work poverty had increased due to the large number of low paid and insecure jobs, with little chance of progression.  As a result, a benefits trap was forming which kept people on benefits and in poverty. This was reinforced by our polling, which suggested that people saw few good jobs available and the jobs that were available tended to be low paid and poor quality.

The charities also reported that the mental health of young people was deteriorating. One of the charities we spoke to that worked in schools said that they used to see one or two pupils being referred to their service, but now whole classes were being referred because they just weren’t coping with school.

The final thing that the charities saw was increased loneliness and isolation particularly amongst old people. 2/3 of people polled thought that isolation and loneliness had got worse over the last number of years.

We also asked the charities what was happening to them? Firstly, they saw that their financial resilience was decreasing due to the pressure of increased demands and decreased resources. The work they were doing was becoming increasingly complex due to the failure of public systems so they were seeing cases which should have been dealt with by public systems but were now coming to be dealt with by charities.

In terms of their funding, they were still receiving predominantly short-term project funding but we’re continually asking for multiyear core funding which would allow them to cover their overheads and invest in IT systems.

Another issue that charities were facing was staff.  Many staff were now burned out and it was difficult to retain and recruit new staff due to the low pay on offer, particularly in relation to the higher pay that the public sector and private sector could offer.

Our polling showed the 85% of the Scottish population never volunteer.  This is a real drawback for the charity sector where so much of the good work that they deliver is delivered by volunteers. Two excellent examples of this are MCR pathways and Safe Families, both were previous winners of the CSJ awards, and both rely totally on using volunteers to make the difference that they’re able to deliver.

Finally, charities reported that their relationship with Scottish Government and local authorities had deteriorated over the last years there was now very much a “master-servant” relationship.  They were also seeing there an outsourcing of the cuts that local authorities were having to face and these this outsourcing was happening into the charities where they were forced to make the redundancies.

So, in conclusion the picture we found looked grim and unfortunately seems to be about to get worse.

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Drowning Not Waving
February 19, 2024
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