Threat to Cameron's Big Society as cuts take toll on charities

Citizens Advice Bureaux face closure as funding withdrawn
  • @oliver_wright

In a blow to David Cameron's flagship 'Big Society' policy, Citizens Advice Bureaux across England are facing closure after budget cuts, the charity warned last night.

CAB, which provides advice and support to more than 2 million people, said that the situation in some parts of the country was now "desperate".

On average the charity has seen budget cuts of 10 per cent to its 394 bureaux this year on top of 5 per cent cuts last year.

But the figures mask huge regional variations. Some CABs have had more than 50 per cent of their public funding withdrawn and are already cutting opening hours and services. Several have had their funding cut entirely.

CAB is also facing further cuts of around 18 per cent as a result of changes to the legal aid system. Under government proposals, social welfare and housing cases will no longer be eligible for legal aid – a key source of income for CAB. These cuts would deprive the CAB of around £20m a year. Recent cuts by local authorities include:

* Leicestershire County Council reduced the amount it provides the CAB by £99,470;

* Birmingham, Corby, South Gloucester, Rotherham and Thurrock have had their subsidies cut by 50 per cent;

* Southwark reduced its subsidy from £84,194 to £31,573;

* Oldham cut its grant from £149,879 to £97,876.

It comes as the number of clients seeking help with debts, benefits and homelessness has as much as doubled, the charity says. Because CAB bureaux are all individual charities and the funding cuts are disproportionate in some parts of the country its umbrella organisation has warned that many may go out of business.

"In some parts of England the situation is now desperate," said Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy. "Overall this year we are looking at local authority cuts of around 10 per cent on top of the cuts last year.

"And the worst is yet to come. We're facing the triple whammy of local authority cuts, the end of the Financial Inclusion Fund and cuts to legal aid – and you don't get very much notice of these things.

"Some Bureaux look like they may be forced to close and in other cases it will be a question of just trying to keep going by whatever means they can."

The figures emerged from a survey of local authorities carried out by the union-backed pressure group False Economy.

It found that charities working in the public sector are facing net funding reductions of more than £110m this year, although the final figure is likely to be higher as some large authorities, such as Manchester, Leeds and Sunderland, refused to provide details of their cuts. Of the charities affected 382 worked with children and young people, 142 with the elderly and 151 with disabled people.

Birmingham City Council alone has cut funding to 191 charities while the cross-council organisation London Councils, has cut funding to 174 groups.

False Economy's campaign director Clifford Singer said the cuts would have a direct effect on the ability of charities to play an active role in the Government's Big Society drive.

"These cuts are not just to 'nice to have' groups but organisations providing services for older people trying to maintain independent lives, vulnerable children and abused women."

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which has overall responsibility for CAB, said: "Core funding for Citizens Advice Bureaux typically comes from local authorities, and we very much hope they share our view that the Bureaux are important and should be supported. It's also vitally important that everyone has access to free debt advice, which is why the Department for Business has provided £27m to maintain the programme of face-to-face debt advice."

Other victims of the cuts

Cambridgeshire: Red Hen Breakfast Club Small charity working in three schools located in a deprived area in the north of Cambridge, helping children and their families.

£20,700 received last year, but will get no money this year due to cuts in the Children's Fund.

London: Central London Community Law Centre Provides advice and representation in discrimination and tribunal cases.

£109,745.75 received in 2010-11; cut by a total of £68,591.09 in 2011-12.

Rochdale: Littleborough Old People's Welfare Association Runs luncheon clubs and other services.

£6,000 received in 2010-11; no funding in 2011-12.

Nottinghamshire: Housing Advice Service Provides housing and housing-debt related advice and advocacy services

£73,385 received in 2010-11; cut by £43,385 in 2011-12.

Teesside: Nightstop Provides emergency temporary accommodation for homeless young people aged 16-25 in the homes of trained volunteers.

£23,529 received in 2010-11; cut by £12,529 in 2011-12.

Cheshire East: Care and Repair Charity created to improve the housing and living conditions of older and disabled people.

£8,300 received in 2010-11; no funding in 2011-12.

Northamptonshire: Camrose Community Toy & Book Library Loans out educational toys and books to parents of children under five who otherwise would not have access to them.

£3,000 received in 2010-11; no funding in 2011-12.