Vital public services such as meals on wheels and support for the homeless could be lost if public-sector cuts see voluntary groups lose government contracts, charity leaders warn.
Charities are playing a larger role than ever in delivering public services but feel "widespread fear about the future", according to research by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) published today.
The organisation's figures show that the voluntary sector's earned income from delivering statutory contracts has increased to £9.1bn, up 128 per cent since 2000-01.
Charities provide essential public services, including meals on wheels, refuges for victims of domestic violence, sports activities for disadvantaged children and support and advice for people looking for work.
The findings, in the NCVO's UK Civil Society Almanac 2010, have prompted charity leaders to warn that voluntary organisations should not be seen as a soft target for public-sector spending cuts.
Stuart Etherington, the chief executive of the NCVO, said: "We know there will be severe cuts in public spending in the coming months. But we should not be seen as a cheap or fluffy addition to core public services. Our work is with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people and communities in the country, and they stand to lose the most if vital services are cut."
The rise in charities' earned income from public-service contracts is largely thanks to government policies that have encouraged the voluntary sector to become more involved in providing services, as well as the charities' desire to diversify their income streams.
"As a result, many voluntary organisations are becoming more market-orientated in response to the changing landscape in which they operate," the report concluded.