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Equalities charity brap published recently their ‘Making the Cut’ report about the challenges facing Birmingham community groups over an 18-month period.  Here, brap’s CEO, Joy Warmington, examines the findings and asks what the next step might be in addressing the difficulties and finding solutions.


The work of community organisations has always been underpinned by three key values. The first, and most obvious, is self-help: providing services when the state can’t or won’t, or when self-help is actually more effective or appropriate. Second is self-organisation. Community groups are often at their best when they’re movements for change in society, transforming attitudes about everything from homosexuality to disability to mental health. And finally, there’s independence: working strategically with local and national government to make life better by closing gaps in services and loopholes in the law.


That’s the history: what about today? In the current climate, community groups are facing unprecedented budgetary pressures. Making the Cut asked what impact is this having on frontline services and the people using them?


To get a better idea brap has been regularly speaking to community organisations in Birmingham for over a year. These organisations work with some of the most vulnerable in the city and cover a range of sectors, including housing, domestic violence, and youth employment.


What we’ve found is that cuts to spending and changes to public service design are forcing individuals to go to community organisations for the support they need. Whether it’s welfare changes, the closure of local housing advice offices, reductions in youth services, or countless other things, people are increasingly turning to local voluntary sector organisations for help and advice. Between November 2014 and July 2015, for example, 77% of community groups said they had faced a ‘significant’ increase in demand for their service.


But that’s not all: over the same period, 88% of project participants had to make changes to their work because of cuts to funding. For most this meant changes to admin and management support. A lot of organisations have also said there is less funding for overheads and the ‘softer’ activities that help create a fuller, more holistic support service.  At the same time funding has become more short-term, making it harder for organisations to invest in their sustainability and to plan long-term interventions. A youth service, for example, might find itself in the unhelpful position of spending a few weeks working with a troubled young person only to have them referred back to the organisation some months later. Having more time with the individual in the first place might have allowed the agency to really get to grips with the problems they faced, giving the young person the confidence and resilience to solve their problems independently.


What is more, community groups are finding it harder to lobby local and national government about the concerns they have. This is partly because with fewer resources and increased demand, most voluntary organisations just don’t have the time to challenge this cycle of diminishing returns. For most the time available to analyse policy, engage with decision-makers, and draw out the strategic implications of new policy, practice, or legislation on their day-to-day work has been massively reduced.


Additionally, the constraints on speaking out are also partly because contractual relationships can make it harder for community groups to say what they need to. Increasingly, commissioning contracts – not just locally but nationally too – are stipulating that organisations can’t speak out about the impact of funding cuts. And many organisations don’t want to risk the relationship they’ve built up with their commissioner because funding is so tight. The customer is always right.


Since the report was published a number of local councillors and council officials have expressed concern about its findings. As communities see the impact of funding cuts really start to hit vulnerable people, most decision makers have said they are keen to deepen their links with the voluntary sector (and, in fact, some community organisations have recently told us they’ve noticed a move toward greater partnership working). Some respondents have since promised to press for formal mechanisms with which the sector can talk to and engage new governing bodies (such as the West Midlands Combined Authority). Others have offered to explore how the contents of contracts between the council and community groups are communicated, as, they claim, the intention has never been to stifle the voice of the sector.


This is a crucial exercise.  For  we ignore the work, expertise, local intelligence, and advice of voluntary organisations at our peril. Many have a unique insight into the cumulative impact of welfare reforms and public service changes. There is a role for public authorities now, more than ever, to engage community organisations in discussion about how to ensure vulnerable and excluded groups aren’t being left behind. And there’s a role for us, too, as a society to think carefully about what kind of voluntary sector we want to see. Because at the moment there’s a danger we’ll lose the side of it that campaigns, and agitates, and demands. We can’t just be content for community groups to fulfil the first of the values we outlined at the start. Historically, community groups have built hospices, sheltered refugees, and made public transport accessible for the disabled. If we forget this role, we are forgetting its potential. We are forgetting its vitally important role of holding up a mirror to society and speaking truth to power.


Our new work supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust will feed into the ‘Making the Cut’ project by creating a series of voluntary sector “conversations” around social cohesion and inclusion in Birmingham.  Watch this space.


For more information about the Making the Cut project go to


Alun Severn is the co-ordinator of the Birmingham and Solihull Social and Economic Community Council with a background in social enterprise and the third sector. In this blog he reminds us of the importance for the third sector and social enterprises of getting to grips with social value if the sectors are to compete in the current marketplace.


Hands up who understands what is meant by the expression ‘social value’? If you work in the third sector and social enterprise sector you’ll either be grappling with how to implement and monitor it or sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will go away. But for the time being it is here to stay and we have to make the most of it.


For the past two years Birmingham & Solihull Social Economy Consortium (BSSEC) has been delivering a Barrow Cadbury Trust-funded project aimed at identifying meaningful ways of implementing the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. The Act, for those of you not familiar with it, requires “public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts; and for connected purposes”.


BSSEC has worked jointly with Birmingham City Council and other public service commissioners to support the implementation of social value, providing briefings, resources and free workshops for social enterprises and trading voluntary organisations to help improve their ability to compete within the terms of this new legislation.




Many local authorities have made good progress in putting in place practical arrangements to embed social value-based approaches in their commissioning and procurement procedures.


But they are not implementing social value as a stand-alone policy. Rather, it is being utilised as part of a wider response to the current pressures under which local authorities are operating – government spending cuts, decommissioning services, making efficiency savings, reducing the demand on services, and becoming primarily service commissioners rather than service providers. Efforts are also being made to align social value with existing corporate priorities, processes and key policy drivers and the following have become central to shaping social value priorities amongst councils:


  • Targetted employment, apprenticeships and training opportunities.
  • Strengthening local economies and ‘making the local pound work harder’.
  • Avoiding ‘exporting jobs’ as a consequence of buying outside of authorities’ catchment areas.


Local authorities making the most progress on social value are taking bold approaches that go beyond the minimum requirements of the Act. Rather than applying social value only to service contracts above the EU procurement thresholds, which is all the Act requires, they are applying the legislation as widely as possible, to both services and goods, to all contract values, and to all providers.


Evidencing and measuring social value remain the least developed parts of the process and most authorities (and social enterprises, for that matter) are adopting a ‘wait and see’ position on measuring social value. There are a number of reasons for this:


  • It is still very early days and few contracts have progressed to the point at which evidencing requirements can be reviewed or checked for effectiveness.
  • Providers and purchasers lack not just standardised methods for measuring and reporting social value, but also a shared language for articulating social value.
  • There is still some doubt regarding not the just the type of evidence commissioners want, but also what they wish to measure and report.


Reduced staff capacity within local authorities also means that too little is being done to assess whether transferable evidencing and monitoring methods might already exist in other parts of their organisations.




Many social enterprises don’t know where to start in adopting a social value measurement method. They don’t know what information to collect, what to measure, what information commissioners will find most meaningful, what method is most suited to their size and type of organisation, or what the costs of implementation might be. The bewildering array of courses, methods, tools, consultancy offers and proprietary systems purporting to measure social impact and social value make it virtually impossible to make a decision. Two recently launched websites alone – Inspiring Impact , which is backed by the Cabinet Office, and the Social Value Hub , which is an initiative of Social Enterprise UK – contain hundreds of outcome measures, impact tools and reports.


Fortunately for us, the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance (CCEG) is currently undertaking work to assess how public authorities are implementing the Act and by Autumn 2014 there should be an ‘official’ UK social value portal which could include guidance and recommendations.




For many social enterprises the problem is not so much measuring social value but articulating and describing their social value. Many social enterprises struggle to describe what they do and the social benefit they deliver. They lack a defined, agreed corporate statement regarding their social value that is understood and used by all staff at all levels throughout the organisation. Achieving this is not the icing on the cake, but it is a good starting point and would help many to begin the process of identifying a suitable social value framework – including appropriate social value indicators and evidence – specifically for that organisation.


Our experience suggests that those enterprises fewer than around 25 staff are struggling because they don’t have enough staff to dedicate sufficient time and effort to social value and impact measurement.


There is a risk that a disproportionate burden of data-gathering and evidence will fall predominantly on the shoulders of suppliers. This would severely disadvantage smaller social enterprise and third sector providers (and smaller SMEs too). The Third Sector Research Centre recently published a report voicing precisely this concern.




Whatever regimes for measuring and reporting social value local authorities adopt must be proportionate and ‘do-able’ and should ideally be a joint effort between public service commissioners and the sector. Anything over-complicated or disproportionate is likely to erode rather than create social value. This makes continuing work to support social enterprises and trading third sector organisations in their social value practices of even greater importance.


Social enterprises and third sector organisations in Birmingham should take this early opportunity to sign up to the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility. The Charter is still in its infancy and early adopters are likely to be  able to influence both it and the subsequent monitoring that will be required from businesses reporting against their Charter action plans. While the Charter is not solely concerned with social value, it has become Birmingham’s main tool for a social value focus and guidance. Social enterprises should get cracking and start signing up to the Charter – they shouldn’t leave it to the private sector to lead on the Charter, as is the case at the moment.


Sumi Rabindrakumar, Gingerbread’s research officer, says that the upturn in employment may be good news for some, but few single parents are reaping the benefits


Work, for single parents, isn’t easy at the best of times. As both the main carer and main earner supporting their family, it can be tough to find a job that allows single parents to juggle childcare as well as pay the bills. But new research from Gingerbread shows that single parents are now also battling low pay, insufficient hours and job insecurity in today’s job market. The end result is that work is failing to provide the majority of working single parent families with the income they need.


No pay, no gain


Our latest report, The long road to recovery, reveals the gulf between a recovering economy and the real-life experiences of working single parents. Around two in five working single parents surveyed are low-paid.  A quarter had experienced a wage cut in the last six months alone.  And 30 per cent had experienced unpaid overtime in the last two years, for the first time.


“I am earning less per hour than I was four years ago”


Pay aside, many single parents simply can’t find the working hours they want and need – the proportion of single parents working part-time when they want full-time hours has doubled since 2007. Over half of non-working single parents surveyed said inflexible hours stopped them from applying for jobs all or most of the time.


And now single parents must deal with the job insecurity that has emerged since the recession. Around a quarter of non-working single parents said they’d left their last job due to hours or wage cuts, a temporary job ending or redundancy. And once out of work, the support provided is often focused on job search targets, rather than meaningful support to help single parents back into sustainable employment.


“I found myself just applying for jobs…that I’d already been rejected for, just to meet the quota they had set me”


Single parents are doing all they can to keep their heads above water, with many working multiple jobs and long hours to cover their bills. But, in the face of a long-term fall in wages, rising living costs and recent welfare cuts, it can feel like a losing battle. And no wonder, when single parents now need to earn more than twice as much as they did in 2008 to meet a basic standard of living.


A call for action


It’s clear that work is no golden ticket out of poverty. We cannot dismiss the problem of low-paid and insecure jobs as a rite of passage, just the first step on a long-term career path. As the Resolution Foundation found, people are too often trapped in jobs that offer little pay and no progression.   Single parents have been disproportionately hit by welfare cuts and there may be more on the horizon. As the safety net is pulled away, we need action now to ensure single parents can support their families.   Gingerbread wants to see the government improve support for single parents getting back to work, moving away from the ‘work-first’ approach that pushes single parents to take any job. We need stronger in-work financial support to soften financial barriers to work. And the government must work with employers to promote flexible working and tackle low pay and job insecurity.   The government wants to ensure the economy grows and to reduce welfare spending – when getting just 5 per cent more single parents into the workforce could save over £400m, why not make them part of the solution rather than risk isolating them further?


“I work 24-hour shifts and longer very often…I’m missing all the little important parts of my little girl growing up and it breaks my heart!  All this and I still fail to make ends meet…my cupboards are bare”


Sumi Rabindrakumar is Gingerbread’s Research Officer. Paying the Price is a research project being carried out by Gingerbread, with funding from Barrow Cadbury Trust and Trust for London.  The Long Road to Recovery is the second report from the project; you can read the report at

A commission, led by cross bencher Lord Low is calling today in a report for urgent reforms to ensure ordinary people can get the help they need to deal with employment, debt, housing and other social welfare law problems.  The Low Commission was the biggest inquiry of its kind into the impact of cuts in funding for social welfare law advice.

In the report the commission calls for a national strategy for advice and legal support, to replace the current piecemeal approach, which is failing to protect the poorest and most vulnerable.  It also calls for a £100m implementation fund – with half the money coming from central government, and half raised from other sources, including a levy on payday loan companies 

Other recommendations include:

 – Creation of a new, cross-departmental ministerial post, to oversee implementation of the advice and legal support strategy;

– Restoring legal aid for housing cases so people can get help before they face imminent eviction;

– Urgent reform of the ‘safety net provisions’, introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act, which are proving unwieldy and unworkable.

 During its year-long inquiry, the Low Commission heard evidence from around the country:

 – Tameside, near Manchester – 5-week wait for appointments at local Citizens Advice Bureau; only 10% of those needing specialist help are able to be referred on (down from 50%);

– Gloucester: housing charity Shelter has closed its office, the CAB has gone into administration; while Gloucester Law Centre is still going, demand for immigration and debt advice has doubled, compared with last year;

– Birmingham: local CAB lost more than half its local authority grant (down from £590,000 to £265,000), plus £700,000 in legal aid funding;

 – Sutton: CAB has seen trebling of demand for welfare benefit appeal advice in last three years;

 – Swansea & Neath Port Talbot: CAB has had to axe 12 out of 36 staff posts because of 30% cuts in budget.

 Read the full report


Launched today, Gingerbread’s latest report finds that most single parent families are financially fragile, and despite frugality, such families regularly struggle to meet their financial commitments.

Paying the Price is the first report in a three-year project investigating the effect of the ‘age of austerity’ in single parent families. With data collected from an online survey and in-depth interviews, the current report turns its attention to how single parents’ household budgets have been affected by austerity measures.

More than half of (55%) of single parents stated that they ran out of money before the end of almost every month. Almost nine in ten (87%) had borrowed money for sought emergency welfare support in the last year. Gingerbread also found that 40 per cent of single parents are behind on their bills.

Between 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, the incomes of single parent families have fallen by  six per cent whilst the incomes of couple families have, for the most part, remained static.

A significant source of financial trouble for single parent families was the rise in living costs; single parents are more affected by the costs of housing, utility bills and foods as they take up a larger portion of their income. Additionally, single parent families are significantly affected by tax and benefit reforms.

This can also hinder single parent families’ financial resilience with three quarters of single parent saying they were rarely able to save, leaving them unprepared to cope with unexpected financial costs.

Although many single parents have adopted a number of ways of coping with austerity, such as careful budget management and finding cheap substitutes for some products, many single parents are trapped in a difficult-to-escape cycle of financial fragility.

Read the full report here.

The report released today proposes that a radical review of Big Society thinking is needed in light of millions of people being excluded from the Big Society, whilst the charities that support disadvantages people are themselves experiencing cuts to their funding.


The Big Society Audit, released by Civil Exchange and supported by  the Barrow Cadbury Trust, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and DHA points out that despite the rhetoric surrounding the Big Society, some of the most vulnerable are adversely affected by the policy. People with disabilities will experience 29% of the cuts, whilst 500,000 people in the UK are now dependent on food aid.


The report highlights stark differences between communities with regard to how they have been affected by the Big Society. The Big Society is at its healthiest in affluent and rural communities. Those living in the most deprived 10 per cent of the country were less likely (52%) to  agree that people pulled together to improve things than those in the least deprived 10 per cent (79%). Charitable giving and formal volunteering were more common in affluent areas and those living in affluent areas were more likely (73%) to say people in their neighborhood could be trusted that those living in disadvantages areas (22%).


The voluntary sector, despite an increased demand for its services has been largely left out in the cold. Many voluntary sector organisation, particularly those that work with vulnerable people, often in disadvantaged areas have experienced cuts to sources of income that they relied on. Many are now ‘running on empty’ with further funding cuts in the pipeline.


There are, however, positives to report. Communities are taking over vital assets and local services, greater transparency and accountability, and higher levels of volunteering, particularly amongst young people.


Read the full report here.

In advance of George Osbourne’s Autumn Statement, in which it is expected that the chancellor will say the economy is recovering, Gingerbread has stated that single parents surveyed for their upcoming report say they believe their financial situation will worsen over the next year.


The survey was conducted as part of the report, Paying the Price: single parents in the age of austerity, due to be released next month. Paying the Price looks at how single parents are faring light of austerity cuts and rising living costs. Around a third (36 per cent) of their outgoings go on housing, food and fuel essentials as opposed to around a quarter (27 per cent) of couple families’ spending. Rising living cost have also impacted on single parents’ food expenditure with two-thirds of the parents saying they had cut back on food for themselves, and one in seven (14 per cent) said they had cut back on food for their children.


In responses these findings, Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir states, “Single parents aren’t feeling any warmth from an economy that is supposedly heating up. In fact, the majority expect things to get worse. At this time of year, parents with growing children need to buy new shoes and winter coats – but for too many this is becoming impossible.”

Today, Wednesday 2 October, sees the launch of Gingerbread’s report on the effect of Universal Credit on single parent families. Credit Crunched: Single parents, universal credit and the struggle to make work pay by Professor Mike Brewer and Dr Paola De Agostini at the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that although many single parents out of work will benefit from working short hour jobs, overall, single parents will be the biggest losers under universal credit.


There are currently two million single parents in the UK and children in single parent families are twice as likely as children in couple families to live in relative poverty. Estimate show that almost all single parents will be eligible for universal credit with the intention of making work pay.


The report explores the likely impact of universal credit on the incomes and work incentives of single parent families. Looking at three different types of single parent household; those where the parent is not working, the parent is working and earning the national minimum wage and those where the parent is working and earning above the minimum wage, the researchers highlight the differential effect of universal credit as a function of their level of employment.


Single parents in all three categories will lose out in cash terms under universal credit, but single parents who are working will lose a greater proportion of their income than any other household type. Conversely, single parents looking to enter employment will have strong financial incentives to do so until they begin working more than 20 hours per week.


Gingerbread suggest two changes to how universal credit is calculated, which would increase the financial incentives to work longer hours; increasing the amount claimants can earn before universal credit begins and reducing the rate at which benefits are taken away from earnings. They also state that more should be done to address single parents’ barriers to work such as the cost and availability of childcare and a lack of flexible jobs.


You can read the full report online here. 

Sapphire Mason-Brown, Communications and Programmes Intern at the Barrow Cadbury Trust, considers the potential implications of the Chancellor’s spending review for the voluntary sector.


Last week’s spending review brought little positive news for key departments and affected individuals; the prison budget was were reduced by £180m, a 6% cut to the transport resource budget has been proposed and civilian posts on the armed forces have been cut. Some specific components of the review have great implications for charities and those rely on in their services, notably cuts to the welfare budget, local government spending and the Charity Commission’s budget, meaning that times will only get tougher for the sector.


The review sees a 10% cut to local government spending making it particularly hard hit. This comes in addition to the previous 33% real terms cuts to council budgets directly affecting their service provisions. However, Local Enterprise Partnership (LEPs) can bid for funding from a local growth fund of £2bn (lower than the £70bn recommended by Lord Heseltine in his review of economic policies), a move declared to be: “a welcome step in the right direction” by Alex Pratt, chairman of the Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP.


Changes to the welfare budget will likely have the greatest immediate impact on many beneficiaries of charities working with vulnerable communities. A new cap will be introduced to the welfare system affecting housing benefit, tax credits and disability benefits. Alongside the welfare cap comes a cut to the benefits of claimants who do not speak English unless they take language courses and a ‘temperature test’ for winter fuel allowance preventing pensioners living in warm countries from claiming it.


Dubbed the ‘Wonga Week’ by some, the waiting period before jobseekers are able to claim benefits will be extended to seven days from the previous three, which has been perceived as a change that could encourage greater take-up of payday loans. Payday loans have received heightened attention due to an increased reliance on their services, alongside and increase in the sheer amount of debt stemming from payday loan. On average, the average amount owed on payday loans has increased by £400 to £1657.


Particularly in light of a greater reliance on food banks and increased payday loan debt, the consequences of the welfare cap are potentially significant for both charities and their beneficiaries; as a result, analysis of this will soon be published by NCVO.


The Charity Commissions’ budget will be reduced from £21.4million to £20.4million and the department for Culture, Media and Sport will be cut by 7%.


The resource budgets for the Treasury and the Cabinet Office will be cut by 10%, whilst the Office for Civil Society will retain its funding of £56m and additional support will be provided for the National Citizenship Service.


Issues arising from cuts affecting the sector are twofold, as cuts to welfare and local government spending may lead to a further increased demand for their advice and support services, whilst the Charity Commission faces a direct cut to its funding, potentially reducing it’s ability to support and champion the sector. In the coming weeks NCVO will be working to build a fuller picture of the impact of these changes on voluntary and community organisations.

In May 2011 the Barrow Cadbury Fund invited Michael Mendelson to speak at a number of events throughout the UK. Having served as Deputy Minister of the Cabinet Office in Ontario during Canada’s much cited fiscal consolidation of the 1990s, he had a vast wealth of insight and experience to offer. Two years on it’s worth revisiting this film, in which he addresses the question of public spending cuts and sets out some of the major differences between 90s Canada and the situation facing the UK then – and now.





Michael Mendelson is now Senior Scholar at the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.