Unsustainable pressures facing community groups and organisations

People Women in a community group taking part in an activity
Photo by RDNE Stock project on Pexels.
ViewsJune 21st, 2024

Eleri Williams, BCT’s Policy and Research Advisor, explores the unsustainable pressures facing community groups and the support they need

BCT’s research, Beyond Essentials: Community Responses to the Cost-of-Living Crisis, the first attempt to understand community responses to the Cost-of-Living Crisis across Wales focuses on the community sector. Over 80% of community groups reported being affected “markedly” by the Cost-of-Living crisis, with over 50% reporting an increase in demand for their services whilst facing a simultaneous decrease in their income.

51% of respondents consider their organisations to be providing support or activities which were previously the responsibility of the state, with 54% stating that this had increased since the start of the Cost-of-Living crisis.   

The financial impact

Like others, community sector finances have taken a hit during the crisis. Many community groups experienced a reduction in income from decreased donation levels, fewer people being able to pay activity fees or purchase refreshments, and reductions in venue hire fees. Combined with considerable increases in energy costs, as well as transport and salary costs, many groups continue to face significant pressure on their budgets. We were told that funders do not always recognise these as valid elements in funding bids.

We urge funders to:

  • recognise the extreme pressures and demands facing community groups and build a contribution to core costs into funding awards.
  • ensure grant recipients pay staff the real living wage.
  • support community groups to meet rising energy costs through a more expansive range of grant schemes including contributions to retrofit measures.

Cuts to public services

Cuts to public services are already impacting community groups, with existing Service Level Agreements no longer meeting significantly increased running costs. Additionally, the smaller pots of short-term funding typically made available by local authorities and health boards, simply have not been forthcoming, due to the cuts made to their own budgets. Irrespective of the results of the General Election, we anticipate this trend to continue for several years, dramatically impacting the community sector in the years to come.

We urge the Welsh Government to:

  • develop a flexible, long-term funding model to support community action using the expanded Dormant Assets Scheme.

Moving into new territory

We heard how increasingly community groups feel they were operating in spaces formerly filled by the public sector. Community groups have adjusted their focus to provide much-needed support to and in their local communities. The activities they increasingly now carry out have become essential, as public services react to the deep cuts to their budgets.

“We are the last port of call when the Local Authority, Citizens Advice or wellbeing officers can’t get to support to people because it’s late on a Friday – that’s when they contact us. If someone is going to be without food over the weekend, we are able to step in.”  

Our research highlights the wide-ranging responses of the community sector to the challenges associated with the Cost-of-Living crisis. It also exposes the fragile nature of many of the community groups and organisations who have been at the frontline, supporting people through this latest crisis.  Without the goodwill and perseverance of people behind community groups, many others will fall through a safety net increasingly full of holes. Our report identifies several recommendations including the rollout of a Welsh Benefits System, incorporating face-to-face advice to help people claim the support they are entitled to.

Without action, community groups may disappear leaving the people they support to fall, through a safety net increasingly full of holes; we can’t let that happen.

Eleri Williams is Policy and Research Advisor at Building Communities Trust. Find out more about their work in this area>>

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