'We are fundamental to the fabric of the nation': How coronavirus has pushed charities to the brink as demand for services soars

Armed Forces charities have warned that financial pressures are placing the support they provide under intense strain after vital fundraising has been left in tatters throughout the past year.

The majority of traditional events have been cancelled or postponed, including walks and marathons, and funding streams and donations slowing down amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo), which represents 900 charities supporting service personnel and veterans, confirmed to The Yorkshire Post that by March this year the sector will have seen an estimated reduction of £250m since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

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Sir John McColl, the chairman of Cobseo, said two-thirds of service charities reported a drop in income, with 46 per cent anticipating they would have to reduce the services they are delivering in 12 months.

Armed Forces charities have warned that financial pressures are placing the support they provide under intense strain after vital fundraising has been left in tatters throughout the past year. Photo credit: stock.abobe.com

He also highlighted 18 per cent of its membership predicting that they would have to close or merge within a year, while 15 per cent expected that they would exhaust their cash reserves within the same period.

Requests for mental health and loneliness support across the sector have increased by 70 per cent since the start of the first lockdown, while the number of veterans pushed into poverty has increased by 55 per cent.

Sir McColl said: “Those are remarkable figures, and I am very concerned.”

Ahead of the end to the furlough scheme, Sir John, a former General, said it was “vital” that the charity sector was prioritised.

Pictured Sir John McColl,the chairman for the Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo), which represents 900 charities supporting service personnel and veterans.

Sir John said: “As the number of unemployed continues to rise, there will be a knock-on effect on mental health and loneliness and housing and poverty - all of that will flow from it.

“I do think it’s time for the Government to start thinking about the whole of the sector and how it can support it - we are fundamental to the fabric of the nation.”

For many, the picture is bleak, as charity leaders have the sector is often left to plug the gaps in State support.

Sir Andrew Gregory, the chief executive of the forces charity, SSAFA, said demand for the charity’s services had been “massive”.

Pictured Sir Andrew Gregory, the chief executive of the forces charity, SSAFA, who said demand for the charity’s services had been “massive,” since the start of the pandemic.

Nationally, the organisation's helpline, Forcesline, reported an 80 per cent increase in requests for befriending and support from those feeling isolated by the repeated lockdowns.

Initially, during the first lockdown period, Forcesline reported a fall in contacts, from 14,916 in the same six-month period in 2019 to 13,705 in 2020.

As the first lockdown started to lift in June, there was an instant seven per cent uplift in contact compared to the same time the previous year.

Sir Andrew, 63, a former Lieutenant General, said: “The level of hardship is going up. The demand on our services is increasing and the opportunities to raise money are reducing - that is the reality.”

Sue Freeth the chief executive for Combat Stress, the veterans’ mental health charity, which in Yorkshire includes running a peer support programme in Leeds, Sheffield and Hull helping 78 veterans. She said like many charities its finances were also under “immense pressure”.

Combat Stress, the veterans’ mental health charity, which in Yorkshire includes running a peer support programme in Leeds, Sheffield and Hull helping 78 veterans, made 41 redundancies last year.

Income at the charity fell from £16.4m in 2019 to £10.2m in the year to the end of March, its latest accounts show.

Chief executive Sue Freeth said like many charities its finances were also under “immense pressure”.

“It’s been a difficult environment for charities even before Covid happened and the knock-on effects,” Mrs Freeth said.

“The need is going to grow, and we hope the Government will continue to fund the need for this.”

A special Yorkshire Post report includes:

- Armed Forces veteran across the region open up about the struggles of living with post-traumatic stress disorder

- In an exclusive interview Johnny Mercer, the minister responsible for Armed Forces veterans, has admitted that the Government needs more ambition in ensuring former military personnel are given the support they need to adapt to civilian life.

- Soldier-turned-politician Dan Jarvis warns that thousands of former military personnel are in danger of “slipping through the net” as they leave the Armed Forces.

- While an urgent review is needed to ensure homeless veterans are not rendered invisible by the way statistics are collected, a leading academic in the North of England has warned.

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