The chancellor of the exchequer has unveiled a £750m pot of cash for frontline advice charities to survive the coronavirus. However, the director of the Advice Services Alliance, a membership group that includes the Law Centres Network, says Rishi Sunak’s announcement makes no difference to a sector that is in danger of imminent collapse.
Sunak said charities are playing a crucial role in the national fight against the coronavirus and the ‘unprecedented’ package of additional funding will ensure they can continue to help millions of people. The pot comprises £360m from government departments and £370m for smaller charities, including through a grant to the National Lottery Community Fund.
Lindsey Poole, director of the Advice Services Alliance, said it was fantastic to see money earmarked for Women’s Aid and Citizen’s Advice. However, she questioned how the money will be divided.
She told the Gazette: ‘On the face of it, it looks generous, but when you consider that’s got to go across social care and hospices, we’re probably going to be quite low down that list. In terms of what the sector is going to need to support it, there are a lot of advice organisations out there who are still going to suffer. Quite frankly, it’s not enough. And how the money is going to be used is unclear at this point.’
Sunak’s announcement did not mention law centres, which Poole said was ‘really worrying’. She would like to see the Ministry of Justice ‘step up here and recognise the fact that the advice sector has a crucial role ensuring people can enforce their rights and ‘help the machinery work more effectively’.
Poole said the ministry will have a number of projects which are no longer going to be appropriate and allocated funds should be repurposed to advice organisations. One example is the pilot cited in the Legal Support Action Plan document for more effective signposting of legal support. Poole said: ‘They were going to do a pilot study in Birmingham. Schemes like that are simply not appropriate anymore in the current climate. The funding that’s been allocated to those sorts of projects should be repurposed and directed towards frontline services.’
Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, said she welcomed the support for charities working on the frontline alongside the NHS and other vital community workers. She was also pleased to see cash for organisations such as Citizens Advice and Age UK. 'We understand that there have been discussions about the need to include law centres. We very much hope that they will be included and we await the details with anticipation.'
Bishop said law centres are very concerned about the smaller, grassroots, largely voluntary organisations 'who are the first point of contact for many people in need'. She said: 'We're trying to reach out to people who do not have telephones. Normally, we would go to those smaller organisations, but they cannot get together or they cannot do what they have to do because they do not have the staff or the infrastructure for remote working.'
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.