In June, the Prime Minister asked Danny Kruger MP for proposals to 'sustain the community spirit we saw during the lockdown'. Headway contributed to a subsequent consultation, which formed the basis of the MP's report.
Much Danny Kruger's report is reminiscent of the proposals David Cameron put forward about the Big Society. This was a programme that promised a great deal but ultimately failed to address the challenges being faced by local charities supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society.
The question is, will the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda deliver where the Big Society failed?
In his report, Danny Kruger talks about a ‘crisis in communities’. He is right; there is a crisis and with all crises, urgent action is required to stem the tide.
His vision puts charities and volunteers at the heart of community support and has recognised how charities have gone above and beyond to support people during the Coronavirus outbreak.
We thoroughly agree with this sentiment. Headway groups and branches across the UK have gone to extraordinary lengths to support brain injury survivors and their families through the public health crisis. This is despite having to fight for their financial survival as a result of the lockdown putting further pressure on their already stretched finances.
However, he is also clear that charities need additional backing or ‘we risk losing some brilliant and essential organisations’ if action is not taken ‘deliberately and quickly to create a support structure for local communities’.
It is reassuring to see the recognition that social care is already heavily reliant on community provision, as provided by Headway groups and branches, and that this type of care ‘badly needs more support’. It certainly does. But the question is how can this be secured long-term?
There is also a heavy emphasis on the role of volunteers in civil society. We welcome this acknowledgement of the vital role played by volunteers. At Headway, we are fortunate to have the support of incredible volunteers who freely give of their time, energy, and expertise to help improve life after brain injury. Without them, we simply would not be able to function on a national or local level.
The report recommends the creation of a Volunteer Passport to allow individuals to give their time to various good causes with ease. Of course, this is a worthy endeavour and the contributions that volunteers make to charities should not be underestimated. Certainly, Headway branches across the UK, which are run by volunteers, are hugely valued by brain injury survivors, families and carers.
But the specialist services providing social care in our communities, delivered by professionals employed by charities, need appropriate and sustainable funding. Immediate action must be taken to ensure the viability of these services in the long-term to support the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Here at Headway we know that the vital work done by groups and branches in our communities means that brain injury survivors have access to essential rehabilitation and support services. This can prevent them being forced to access more costly-state funded services elsewhere.
But is the value of this work always understood and recognised?
As Mr Kruger highlights, the United Nations has long criticised the UK for not adequately measuring the work voluntary organisations do. Whilst it is positive that the report states a desire to more accurately record and comprehend this value, it is imperative that there is an understanding that providing tangible outcome measures is not always possible.
Some of the work we do cannot be easily quantified. How does one measure the value of an hour’s respite for a stressed carer for whom that short time to themselves helps to maintain their own mental health and prevent family breakdown? Or the importance of a vulnerable adult living with a long-term condition attending a support group once a week; a group that provides his or her only meaningful social contact and helps them to regain a degree of independence and self confidence? Sometimes the value of the support is only apparent when services are no longer available.
In order for the charitable sector to adequately play its part in the levelling up agenda, there needs to be a package of urgent financial support. The proposition of a £500 million Community Recovery Fund aimed at local charities to overcome the immediate challenges they face is welcome, but the key questions is how will this be distributed? Will it be quick and easy to access? And will it filter down to those medium and small charities who urgently need help?
Longer-term, the idea of a Levelling Up Communities Fund to create social investment is interesting, but the evidence is clear: action is needed now.
The real challenge will be to get government to implement these ideas quickly, in a meaningful way. We have seen many reports like this come and go over the years with little or no meaningful change as a result.
We hope the Prime Minister will seize this opportunity as a catalyst for change the sector so desperately needs.Back