Challenge Poverty Week, launched by the Poverty Alliance in 2013, is a fantastic week of events, discussion, and reflection on how we as a nation can come together and show that collective action can challenge the injustice of poverty in Scotland. Hundreds of organisations bring their expertise and talents to the table, from elected representatives and businesses, to trade unions and faith groups, as well as organisations right across the voluntary sector.
I was pleased to be able to speak on SCVO’s Fair Funding calls at the beginning of Monday’s breakfast briefing, essentially kicking off Challenge Poverty Week. The Poverty Alliance has not just vocally supported our Fair Funding calls but has incorporated them within their chosen policy asks for Challenge Poverty Week, recognising how vital Fair Funding for our sector is in the fight against the scourge of poverty.
It would take a solidly brass neck to try to argue that poverty can be alleviated in Scotland without the voluntary sector. Our sector is vital in this fight. Over the length and breadth of the country, organisations are working tirelessly with a mission to eradicate poverty, while countless others dedicate their efforts to offering support, services, and projects that help to prevent poverty, support people in deprived areas, and alleviate the impacts of poverty.
But, as we do battle with the causes and impacts of poverty across our communities, our sector is in a fight of its own – a fight to reshape the currently unfair and unsustainable approaches and processes that plague voluntary sector funding. Organisations carrying out invaluable work, often small and volunteer led, see the capacity of incredibly talented and passionate people wasted because of those processes - capacity that could, and should, be directed towards undertaking the work such organisations do so well.
After years of underfunding and upheaval, combined with the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, the voluntary sector is struggling. These crises have, for many organisations, increased demand for the vital services and support they provide while faced with rising costs and stagnant funding. At the same time, the recruitment and retention of staff, as well as complete burnout of those involved in organisations, are huge issues.
Thanks to the Scottish Third Sector Tracker, we know that 71% of organisations find organisational finances as their biggest challenge, with around a half of organisations telling us that increasing costs are negatively impacting the ability to deliver core services, and 1 in 10 voluntary organisations going into this winter uncertain whether they will still be operating in 12 months. The current situation that the voluntary sector finds itself in is simply unsustainable and this is a situation that is not only not helped by the Scottish Government’s approach to sector funding, but it’s a situation that is perpetuated by that approach.
We have welcomed the Scottish Government commitment to Fairer Funding by 2026 but this must reflect and include as many of the principles and asks of SCVO’s Fair Funding calls as possible. Fair Funding is not a wish-list of wants and desires, it’s collection of what is truly and urgently needed – not just to secure the future and stability of voluntary organisations across Scotland, but to ensure they have the capacity and ability to continue challenging poverty.
Our calls, the majority of which focus on the actual processes and problems involved in the current system rather than any clambering for extra finances, will continue to be at the heart of what SCVO asks, and expects, from the Scottish Government. Simply put, we cannot have a discussion about challenging poverty in Scotland without recognising the undeniable need for a stable and secure voluntary sector, and we cannot have a discussion about a stable and secure voluntary sector without recognising the urgent need for Fair Funding.