This month’s Trajectory Trends Breakfast explored the Future of Charities and was presented by Directors Jane O’Brien and Charlotte Cornish. At the outset, they asked the question: are charities in crisis?
The question proved difficult to answer; can charities be in crisis if there is no singular charity experience?
Many large charities operate like businesses; highly professional, leveraging economies of scale and ultimately, competing successfully for income available from governments and individuals. The number of charities with annual incomes of over £10 million has increased from 307 in 1999 to 1191 in 2016 – an increase of 288% – and the collective income of these large charities (>£10 million) has increased from £10 billion to £45 billion over the same period. It hardly sounds like these charities are at crisis point.
Significant differences exist away from the highly professional super-charities such as Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation or Oxfam. The picture changes somewhat, and there is the proliferation of not one, but several, ‘squeezed middles’.
First, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) identifies as the squeezed middle in the voluntary sector.This middle refers to the 40,000 charities in England and Wales with incomes between £25,000 and £1,000,000 – accounting for 30% of the sector – facing a host of challenges such as higher income volatility and a shifting income mix as public-sector spending has fallen and super-charities have become increasingly prosperous competitors in the charity sector.
Other forms of squeezed middle have become apparent however; iterations of the metaphor which emerge in line with one of the most significant socio-economic trends taking place in society – fragmentation.
This is a trend which we have paid a lot of attention to since January 2016, encapsulating political polarisation, economic and regional inequalities, and the supra-national and sub-national separatism in the UK and Catalonia which has seen the UK vote to leave the EU and Catalonia attempt to secede from Spain.
In the chart below, there is evidence of a different form of squeezed middle – with economic inequality creating vast differences in experience across levels of deprivation. The chart shows the way in which the middle deciles of deprivation are considerably worse off than those at the extremes of high and low deprivation.
The most deprived areas see both the highest number of charities and the highest average income within these charities – the bottom three deciles average 14,250 charities, with average incomes of £6,374. These areas have the highest need, and charitable efforts have been targeted to aid the most deprived areas in the country.
This correlation does not hold however, with charitable provision in the areas in the middle deciles – deciles 4 to 7 – of deprivation significantly lower than that at the extremes. These deciles have an average of 11,679 charities, with average income of £2,279 – a figure that represents just 35% of the average income of charities in the most deprived areas.
The three least deprived deciles of deprivation are those in which we could expect to see the lowest need, but the highest disposable income. It is perhaps for this reason then, that there is a higher number of charities in this decile – 13,863 in the highest three deciles compared to 11,679 in the middle three – and significantly higher average incomes in these charities – £3,106 in the highest three deciles compared to £2,279 in the middle three.
In this instance, the fragmented nature of charitable provision is derived directly from the economic fragmentation we have discussed in looking at Guy Standing’s The Precariat, with the experiences of those at the extremes and in the middle of deprivation differing so greatly as to create unique contexts in which there is no correlation between need and provision.
There might be a squeezed middle in the charity sector, but there is also a squeezed middle in society, and while provision may always struggle to meet need, efforts must be made so that provision better reflects this need.