A charity is an organisation that is set up to help people in need and is for a specific cause. Charities belong to the third sector, which is not about making a profit but rather about making a difference in society.
Did you know there are approximately 169 thousand registered charities in England and Wales as of 2022…!? Between 2000 and 2007 the number of charities increased by 10 thousand, before the 2008 global recession reduced the number of charities by the same number in just two years. Since 2011 however, the number of charities in England and Wales recovered to levels seen just prior to the financial crash.
Unsurprisingly, nearly all charities were impacted by the pandemic – according to the Charity Commission over 90% experienced some negative impact from COVID-19, whether on their service delivery, finances, staff, or indeed on staff morale, resulting from the months of frustration and uncertainty. The majority (60%) saw a loss of income, and a third (32%) said they experienced a shortage of volunteers. Given these findings, it is perhaps surprising that we haven’t seen a significant number of charities fold since March 2021 in a similar trend to the crash in 2008. Overall, the number of charities closing did not vary significantly compared to the previous year which shows a fantastic progression for the sector in being more resilient.
“Nearly all of us turn to a charity at some point in our lives. An overwhelming majority (98%) of UK households have used a charity’s service, with more than half (51%) turning to a charity for advice, according to research carried out by Populus and the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF). I can personally vouch for the benefit of charity support in my younger years, whether through services such as Marie Curie who nursed my mother and in fact, our whole family to some extent; but also smaller organisations like community centres who gave me a home from home when things in my real home felt challenging. Even if we don’t realise it, charities underpin our way of life. “They provide the foundation for our cultural, religious and educational establishments large and small. They shoulder the burden of medical research, health services and support for the vulnerable in society; the disadvantaged, the young and the old.” Above all, charities embody a simple idea; that people come together to make the world a better place. At a time of international turmoil and economic uncertainty, that is something incredibly important and powerful.
We have never (ever) needed charities more.
Did you know, charities are a major part of the economy. Charities in the UK spend over £40bn a year and employ 827,000 people. Charities contribute over £12bn a year to the UK economy, which is the same as the agricultural sector. Charities offer routes for people to volunteer, increase their social circles, wellbeing and also skills/ experience – which can in turn give you greater access to opportunities. They enable people to fulfil the need many of us have (me included), in wanting to make a positive difference on the world. The main purpose of them, being for public benefit and usually tackling an issue or offering some sort of wonderful and very much needed support.
One such issue which around 11,400 UK charities work across, is poverty. According to the Big Issue, the UK has long had a poverty problem, with a decade of public service cuts pushing families across the country further into hardship. The Covid-19 crisis made life even harder for many after thousands were made redundant, lost income on the furlough scheme and faced higher living costs in lockdown. Now, with soaring energy prices, tax hikes and a cost of living crisis, people will struggle to make ends meet.
It means many will struggle to afford the food they need and be forced to rely on food banks. Some will find it difficult to pay for household bills, transport or internet connections.
The problem is not exclusive to unemployed people. In-work poverty hit a record high just before the pandemic, and a 2021 analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research IPPR think tank found that London has an in-work poverty rate of 22 per cent – the highest in the country. The chances for households with two full-time workers of being pulled into poverty have more than doubled from 1.4 per cent to 3.9 per cent over the last two decades.
Some drivers of poverty are life events, like illness or redundancy which many of us includding myself, have felt. Some are structural, and exacerbated by increasing living costs, creating a cycle that keeps people trapped in hardship; such as unemployment and low-paid, insecure work. People who have not had easy access to training or education can struggle to land a secure job, making it harder to escape poverty.
Even benefits can be difficult to access; each year Aster’s financial wellbeing team support around 2000 people per year to have a healthier relationship with money and last year managed to attain approximately £412,000 in benefit applications and appeals for those we work with. It’s particularly difficult for people dealing with mental health issues like addiction to escape poverty; and whether poverty is the reason for ill mental health or something which was there to start with – is the topic for another blog…
The question I asked at the start of this blog/ conversation, is “do we need another one?” Well, let’s see… if there are approximately 11,400 UK charities working on poverty, the majority of these smaller (c.75%), some with a focus on children or working in other countries also with high levels of need; that may leave around 2800 charities working on an issue which impacted up to 14.5 million people before the pandemic. With the UK population currently at nearly 67 million, that’s one in every four or five people.
“Do we need another one?” Yes, we do… Well, it definitely can’t hurt.
As a charity, the Aster Foundation exists to enable the better lives of those who live in and around our communities. We do this through our impact programmes which cover areas such as mental wellness and resilience, financial wellbeing, employment, ageing well (55+), homelessness and volunteering; and are working to enable the better lives of at least 40,000 by 2030.
Our work has a focus on real empowerment. Along side our impact programmes we deliver a social incubator (inc.) which focuses on amplifying the impact of social entrepreneurs who want to tackle the social challenges which contribute to poverty, in a different way. So far, we have worked with 20 social businesses tackling anything from reducing mental health service waiting times through technology (Co-Opts), enabling people to find the right help fast through vetted support (My Pickle); to a raw brick created with landfill waste (Raw Brick)…any many more. Although we work with any talent, we are currently developing an academy which will develop the entrepreneurial capabilities of those living in social housing, starting with those who live within a home through Aster Group. I firmly believe that there is no one better to tackle the social issues which exist, than those who live them every day. We want to give them an opportunity to flourish in this space. I was given that opportunity and I will be forever grateful.
Our work is underpinned by research. A large part of what we do is to give people a voice across the social issues which matter to them. We have two pieces of research which are in progress, one with a focus on social entrepreneurialism which will tell us if there are any barriers for social housing customers in becoming a social entrepreneur – and importantly if so, what we can do to remove these barriers. The second in partnership with Newcastle University, focuses on financial exclusion in the digital age. All important in helping us and others to develop through listening to the voices of those we wish to engage with…
“Do we need another one?” Yes. I am incredibly proud to share the Aster Foundation with you. It is after all, for all of us, with multiple ways to engage, make a difference and to be involved. I wanted to thank all of the partners who support us, our beneficiaries who trust and improve our work every day. Importantly a thank you to Aster Group who have committed to us delivering a long-term plan of support to our communities – which I very much believe has never been more needed.
This is only the start of our journey.
 Sir John Low Chief Executive, Charities Aid Foundation