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Covid-19: Civil Society and Charities

Volume 676: debated on Thursday 4 June 2020

2. What steps his Department is taking to ensure the sustainability of (a) civil society and (b) charities affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (902914)

3. What steps his Department is taking to ensure the sustainability of (a) civil society and (b) charities affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (902915)

Charities and civil society are playing a pivotal role in the response to coronavirus, and in April the Government announced a package of support worth some £750 million to ensure the continuation of this vital work. That is in addition to the business support measures that are available to the sector, including paying no business rates for their shops this year and furloughing staff where possible. It is a comprehensive package that will prevent immediate unnecessary closures, keeping vital services open and providing a basis to continue their contribution to the national effort, and we will keep it closely under our eye.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I want to take this opportunity to thank a number of charities in Wimbledon that have done so much during this crisis, including the food bank, the Dons Local Action Group, Old Ruts and Old Wimbledonians. My hon. Friend is right that there is an impressive package. However, a number of local and national arts charities are experiencing real problems. Will he look again at charities that specifically promote the arts, and particularly local arts, such as Wimbledon BookFest, because they keep culture going in our communities?

My hon. Friend is right that now, more than ever, arts and culture are vital to our society as a whole, and these are immensely challenging times. The £160 million emergency funding package announced by Arts Council England is an important part of that, but we are working closely with the Arts Council to consider what additional support may be needed for the long-term recovery of the sector in the future.

I have been heartened by two particular charities in my constituency: Wakefield Hospice and Penny Appeal. Their work and that of many in the area forms the gold and silver threads that run through Wakefield’s rich tapestry. Both those charities, like many others, face significant funding deficits. Since they are prevented from fundraising through traditional measures at this time of national emergency, what steps are being taken to ensure that their work can continue?

There is significant support available for hospices in particular, with £200 million of the £750 million ring-fenced specifically for hospices, and I pay tribute to the work that they have done. Local charities can access the £200 million coronavirus community support fund. Crucially, as we go forward, reopening the broader economy and allowing charity shops, for example, to reopen from 15 June with social distancing measures in place will allow fundraising to start to get back to normal, so that the vital work that hospices and other charities do can get back to normal.

Voluntary and community organisations are desperately financially fragile, caused by loss of revenue, fundraising and all other forms of income, with many not qualifying for grants and loans but still having significant outgoings, while demand on them escalates. They face a precipice, demanding cuts to vital research, services and support or closure. They are beyond the point of warm words or pennies dropped in the tin. They desperately need a full charity rescue package. When billions are being spent elsewhere, charities are the poor relation. They need further guarantees now. What will the Minister do?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the vital work that charities do and to say that they face immensely challenging times. That is precisely why we have announced a £750 million package. It is precisely why we continue to work with the Arts Council and other organisations in a host of areas to ensure that we can continue to support the ongoing recovery. I understand the point she makes, and that is why we continue to work closely with a whole host of sectors.

The treatment of the volunteers who came forward to make the 2012 Olympics a big success is nothing short of a scandal—the Government wasted all that good will. What is being done to harness the good will of the people who have volunteered during this crisis and ask them what they would like to contribute towards the voluntary sector going forward? That could be a vital part of getting many voluntary organisations up and running when we come out of this crisis.

In the course of this extraordinary pandemic, an additional 4 million people or thereabouts have volunteered in some form or other, with 750,000 people coming forward for the GoodSAM app to help the health service. Harnessing that good will and ensuring that it persists is a key focus of my noble friend Baroness Barran as Minister in the Lords. We will ensure that we do not let that ball get dropped.