David Cameron has always placed charities at the centre of his vision of the Big Society. Yet new research by the False Economy website shows that more than 2,000 charities are facing deep budget cuts. Many are likely to go to the wall. As we report today, Citizens Advice Bureaux – which provide advice and support to some two million people a year – are being particularly hard hit.
So how did we get here? The answer lies in a stubborn refusal by the Prime Minister and his senior advisers to listen to unpalatable truths. Mr Cameron seems to have a mental image of charities as organisations reliant on what they can raise in donations. Some are funded like that, but by no means all. A great many charities in the UK rely, in part, on funding from some arm or other of the state, often local government. So if you impose a 27 per cent real-terms cut on local government spending over four years, as this Government has done, charities are inevitably going to see their funding slashed. That is precisely what is happening.
Mr Cameron was publicly warned by senior figures in the charity and volunteering sector that this would be the consequence of his administration's deep cuts to local government funding. But he refused to listen. And now, as a result, not only is the future of many charities in jeopardy, but also Mr Cameron's ambitious plans to outsource the delivery of public services to these organisations. Charities cannot do more if they are collapsing. And people will find it difficult to volunteer if they have no organisation to sign up with. Mr Cameron is willing the ends, but not providing the means. Unless that changes, his Big Society vision will end up being remembered as just another cynical political slogan.