In a virtual sitting of the House of Lords on 30th April 2020 a debate was held on a motion from Lord Addington, “that the Virtual Proceedings do consider the fundraising and organisational challenges faced by the charitable and voluntary sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, took part in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, at the very time when we need every charity in the country to be mobilised and deployed, many are teetering on a cliff edge. I have been very struck by the range of charities that have sent me briefing notes: St John Ambulance, Barnardo’s, the MS Society, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Scouts, Refugee, Cancer Research UK and the Rainbow Trust, to name but a few. I am sure that other Lords have heard from many others.
Over the years, as the Government have, rightly, raised standards in safeguarding, health and safety, and training, charities have had to employ people to meet those requirements. Now, as income from fundraising activities and charity shops, as well as rental income, has dried up, they are furloughing the very staff who are needed to oversee volunteers.
Of course, many charities are themselves major employers and, as such, are part of the drivers of economic recovery. To give a small example from my own neck of the woods, our Anglican cathedrals employ over 3,000 people—some full time, some part time. As well as providing places of worship and support, they are also art venues and a major contributor to the tourist industry.
We are all passionate about trying to allow charities to function fully again and to raise their funds; meanwhile, they need help, and they need it rapidly. Has the Treasury considered a simple mechanism based on raising the amount of gift aid that charities can claim back? It is an excellent form of match-funding and would be relatively simple to administer. I hope that the Treasury will work sympathetically with all the ideas that we can come up with.