Category Archives: Research News

Churches and ‘tainted money’

All organisations need money – and churches are no different. But churches should perhaps be particularly mindful of where their money comes from and how that relates to Christian ethics and theology. So where do churches get their money from? And does it matter?

Professor Fred Robinson was awarded a Fellowship by the William Leech Foundation to look at churches and money in North East England. This research came about because he had initially been thinking about Christian philanthropy in the region and controversies surrounding corporate sponsorship of cultural organisations. Together with current debates about the legacies of slavery and colonialism in the North East and elsewhere, it was clearly time to reconsider the relationship between churches and their finances – and how they deal with issues of ‘tainted money’.

The report Churches and tainted money is published today. The report covers wide ground with detailed examination of congregational giving; external funding including grants from the National Lottery; historic benefactions; endowments; and where churches invest money and who they bank with. The report also explores the practices of different church denominations, each of which has its own history, challenges – and vulnerabilities to criticism.

In the research, Professor Robinson found a good deal of pragmatism. It is argued that most churches are relaxed about seeking funding from the Lottery, for example, and are not worried about using banks that are heavily invested in fossil fuels. But most are also principled in respect of their investments, putting their money into ethical funds. It’s a mixed picture that can leave churches open to criticism and even to charges of hypocrisy.

Fred says: ‘This report aims to shed light on how churches deal with money. I think that, generally, churches need to give more thought to the provenance of their money and wealth, and also be more proactive, investing in activities that address current problems not just avoiding ‘sin stocks’. But there are, at least, encouraging signs that churches are doing more to face up to historic responsibilities, including legacies of slavery’.

The report will provide some food for thought for the churches – and get church members thinking about whether their churches need to be less pragmatic and more principled in their approach to money.

Churches and tainted money can be downloaded here.

Testing times ahead for Third Sector finances

Third Sector Trends has been surveying the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector every three years since 2010. In 2022, 6,071 responses were received across England and Wales (an average of ~600 responses in each region). This is the only fully representative longitudinal survey which can produce robust and detailed comparative analysis at a regional and national level.

This is the third of five reports from Third Sector Trends in England and Wales 2022. Headline findings are provided below, but if you want to go straight to the report, here is the link:

Relationships with grant-making trusts and foundations

Relationships with grant funders have changed since 2019. The research shows that many grant makers relaxed their approach to funding during the Covid-19 pandemic (percentages refer to TSOs which ‘agree’ or ‘strongly’ agree with statements).

  • In 2019 only 46 per cent of TSOs stated that they received unrestricted or ‘core funding’ compared with 60 per cent in 2022. 
  • In 2019 only a quarter of TSOs reported that grant funders had approached them. This rose to 40 per cent in 2022.

There is good evidence to show that funders have taken a ‘lighter touch’ to grant-making approach during the pandemic.

  • Pressure to provide evidence of impact fell from 55 per cent to 32 per cent.
  • Expectations that practice should be ‘innovative’ fell from 74 per cent to 50 per cent.

Some aspects of inter-relationships with grant-making trusts and foundations did not change:

  • The percentage of organisations stating that grant makers made a long-term contribution to their work remained about the same between 2019 and 2022 at 31-32 per cent.

As the report concludes:

“The benefits of these changes are plain to see. 83 per cent of organisations have reserves now compared with 76% in 2019. In 2022, 45 per cent of organisations have not drawn on reserves compared with 36% in 2019… The question is, will those grant makers which became more relaxed about how they dispensed their money remain so?

Some grant funders have always operated in a responsive way to the needs of charities and social enterprises and trust them to get things done. Others may be keener again to shape and direct the way their money has an impact on local communities and seek evidence for the changes that were achieved.”

Public service delivery contracts

Political enthusiasm for engaging the Third Sector in the delivery of contracts was at its strongest in the first decade of this century. This policy drive derived from an assumption that TSOs could be incentivised to undertake work for government at local and national level in a ‘mixed economy of welfare’.

Despite government efforts to incentivise and help prepare TSOs to engage in the delivery of contracts, such opportunities still only attract small section of organisations in the Third Sector.

  • Due to their purpose and scale of their activities, fewer than 5% of micro and small organisations have been interested in public-service delivery contracts since 2013.
  • Medium-sized organisations (income £250,000-£1million) have become progressively less likely to engage in bidding for or delivering contracts – falling from 52% in 2013 to 36% in 2022.
  • Only the biggest TSOs (with income above £1million) have sustained involvement in such work (about 60% of bigger organisations in major urban areas and about 50% of bigger organisations nationally.

As the report concludes:

“Organisations that deliver contracts are the most likely to be struggling to retain staff and recruit others. If wages are poor, because contract values are too low, then staff will not be available to deliver them.  And to compound this problem, those TSOs which previously chose to subsidise contracts using trading income may struggle now to do this in challenging economic circumstances.”

Earned income from self-generated trading

Self-generated trading includes the delivery of services that clients pay for (such as childcare or community cafes), ticketing for events, rent of space or production and sale of goods.

  • About 60 per cent of organisations in the Third Sector earn some of their income by delivering contracts or self-generated trading of goods or services.
  • The proportion of TSOs which earn more than 80 per cent of their income from trading has fallen since 2013 from 20% to 14%.
  • The overall proportion of organisations which trade has not increased. In fact it has fallen very slightly, but steadily, from 68 per cent in 2013 to 66 per cent in 2022.

As the report concludes:

“The Third Sector’s own trading activity has been affected by the pandemic.  Many organisations stopped or reduced trading activity during the worst of the lockdowns. Like private businesses, they were not allowed to open for long periods. And, initially at least, when they reopened fewer customers came.

While Covid-19 may have accelerated change, the pandemic’s effect should not be over-stated nor its impact exaggerated. The proportion of organisations earning income has not increased over the years. In fact it has fallen very slightly and fewer organisations rely very heavily on trading now than in the past. More recently established organisations are less interest in trading than their older counterparts.”

Optimism about future finances

In spite of current difficulties with rising costs of energy and wages, optimism about finances has remained remarkably high.

  • 33 per cent of organisations expect that their income will rise over the next two years and 46 per cent think it will stay about the same.
  • Only 21 per cent of TSOs think income will fall (and fewer that 5% feel that income will fall substantially).

But as all previous rounds of Third Sector Trends surveys have shown, organisations of all sizes tend to be somewhat ‘over optimistic’ in their projections about future finances.

  • In a period of government austerity in 2010, 24% of organisations thought their income would rise, but this only turned out to be 11% of organisations in 2013.
  • In 2016, 36% of organisations thought their income would rise in future, but by 2019 only 18% reported that this had happened.
  • In 2019, 32% of organisations expected their income would rise. During the pandemic in 2020, optimism collapsed to just 13%. But by 2022, 18% reported that income had risen – the highest level since Third Sector Trends surveys began in 2010.
  • When surveyed in 2022, 33% of organisations thought that their income would rise over the next two years. It is too hard to predict what the actual percentage will be.

As Rob Williamson, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, said

“This report shows that the push since 2010 for the future income of the third sector to be based on trading, contracting, social finance and digital fundraising have amounted to very little. We still see the continued  importance of grant funding, indeed the model of social finance has evolved into a blended model relying on a mix of grant funding and social finance…

“The pandemic sped up the modernisation of grant funding through trust-based, less restrictive models increasingly focussed on core funding which is a good thing. As funders we need to continue to work and flex alongside the sector to ensure the best outcomes for our communities.”  

As the report author, Professor Tony Chapman, concludes:

“Sector over-optimism is not a bad thing because it drives enthusiasm and commitment. But when hopes are dashed, it can make people in the sector feel disappointed…

“Economic conditions are precarious. But this is neither a ‘perfect storm’ nor an ‘existential crisis’. The Third sector is more robust than many commentators think. But there will be a mix of winners and losers as social market conditions change…

“When thinking about sustainability, it should be remembered that Third Sector organisations tend to be financially prudent.  More organisations hold reserves in 2019 and that they are ‘holding on tight’ to them rather than investing in new things. And unlike private businesses, very few organisations borrow money which reduces the risk of foreclosure…

“Crucially, organisations have learned over the years how to flex their operations to manage upturns and downturns in their finances because they are so accustomed to high levels of turbulence in their finances. Inevitably, some organisations will have to make redundancies and reduce the level of services they offer…

“So government, local public sector organisations, grant-making trusts and foundations and Third Sector infrastructure agencies need to keep a close eye, as they generally do, on which kinds of organisations may be most at risk. Otherwise, calls for blanket support for all organisations may water down or misdirect the value of such investment from where need is the greatest.”

The report can be downloaded here.

A blog in the implications of the findings can be found here.

Shaping the future of the Borderlands

Over the past decade, Policy&Practice academics at St Chad’s Colhalflege have been closely involved with strategy debates on how to support economic and social development in the Anglo-Scottish Border. 

This initiative was stimulated by awareness on both sides of the border of shared opportunities arising from the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999. Subsequently, the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 led to the Scottish government gaining new powers. This presented new challenges for politicians and business leaders in the North East of England and Cumbria who felt there may be detrimental consequences for their regions.

The Anglo-Scottish Border has, until recently, been a neglected area of British public policy. Yet it comprises 10 per cent of the UK’s land mass and has a population of over 1 million people. It comprises five local authorities: Dumfries and Galloway; Scottish Borders; Northumberland; Cumbria; and Carlisle Councils (soon to become Cumberland Council).

With a shared history and cultural identity, the area is largely rural with dispersed market towns and isolated former industrial communities connected by cross-border transport links. Low rates of firm formation, low pay, outmigration, an ageing population, transport accessibility and poor broadband connectivity in the Borderlands produce policy challenges.

Policy&Practice’s involvement preceded the Scottish Independence Referendum when, in 2012, the Association of North East Councils requested the Institute for Local Governance (ILG) to commission a new study: Borderlands: can the North East and Cumbria benefit from greater Scottish Autonomy?[1] 

The ILG, led by Professor John Mawson was a North East-wide public sector research and knowledge exchange partnership established to access the expertise of the region’s five Universities. It commissioned Professors Keith Shaw of Northumbria University and Fred Robinson and Jonathan Blackie of St Chad’s College to undertake the work.

Highlighting the economic, social and environmental opportunities of cross-border collaboration the report was instrumental in the establishment of the Borderlands Partnership between the five councils. In turn it led to the commissioning by the ILG of a further report in 2015 entitled Developing the framework for a Borderlands strategy[2] on behalf of the Partnership. This work was undertaken by Professors Jonathan Blackie, St Chad’s College, Durham University; Keith Shaw, Northumbria and Frank Peck, Cumbria Universities and involved ongoing support to the Partnership Steering Group. 

The programme of work’s value was highlighted in the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee report Our Borderlands – Our Future in March 2015.[3]  The initiative was praised by First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon.

Ultimately this led to the Conservative Party’s election manifesto commitment to “bring forward a Borderlands Growth Deal including all Councils on both sides of the border to help secure prosperity…” in 2017. The deal was signed by the two governments and partnership representatives in 2021.[4]   

The partnership is now responsible for the management and implementation of this cross-border integrated programme. Worth over £350million pounds, its aim is to deliver 5,500 jobs, expand tourism and other rural industries, improve public transport and ensure a strong place-based dimension.

In the next stage of this research and consultancy programme, Professor Mawson, now based at St Chad’s College as a professorial fellow in Policy&Practice, together with colleagues from Northumbria University, will be exploring leadership and governance issues surrounding the emergence of the Inclusive Growth Deal and Partnership. 

This work will form part of a two-year international research and seminar programme on the development of international cross-border partnerships supported by the Regional Studies Association.

For other news stories on the Borderlands, see: Strengthening the wellbeing of market towns in the borderlands.


[1] Shaw, K., Blackie, J., Robinson, F., and Henderson G. 2013.  Borderlands: Can the North East and Cumbria benefit from greater Scottish Autonomy?  Universities of Northumbria, Durham and IPPR North.  Commissioned by the Institute for Local Governance on behalf of the Association of North East Councils. Available here

[2] Shaw, K., Peck, F., Mulvay, G., Jackson, K. and Blackie, J, 2015. Developing the Framework for a Borderland Strategy  Northumbria and Cumbria Universities.  Commissioned by the Institute for Local Governance on behalf of Northumberland County Council. Available here

[3] House of Commons 2015.  Our Borderlands – Our Future.  Final Report.  Scottish Affairs Committee.  Sixth Report of the Session 2014-15. Available here

[4] The Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.  March 2021.  Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Northumberland County Council, Scottish Borders Council. Available here

Looming workforce challenges facing the Third Sector

Third Sector Trends in England and Wales 2022: employees, volunteers, diversity and investment in people – new report published today.

Third Sector Trends has been surveying the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector every three years since 2010. In 2022, 6,071 responses were received across England and Wales (an average of ~600 responses in each region). This is the only fully representative longitudinal survey which can produce robust and detailed comparative analysis at a regional and national level in England and Wales. This is the second of five reports from Third Sector Trends England and Wales 2022.

Employee retention and recruitment

There are about 200,000 Third Sector organisations (TSOs), about 40% of them are employers. The sector has a paid workforce of about 1.1 million people.

Over the last two years, 20 per cent of Third Sector employers have found it harder to retain staff and 43 per cent have experienced recruitment problems.

Problems with recruitment are widespread across England and Wales – but it is most intense in North East England (54%), North West England (48%) and in Wales (46%).

Recruitment problems are most severe in the largest organisations: 79 per cent of TSOs with income between £1million and £25million are experiencing recruitment problems compared with just 31 per cent of the smallest employers (with income between £50,000-£100,000).

Difficulties surrounding employee retention compound the challenging staffing situation many organisations face. Again, this is most serious in North East England (25%). Retention problems are most severe in the biggest organisations (53%) but affect organisations of all sizes.

Those organisations which deliver public services under contract for government departments or local authorities are finding retention problems the most challenging (27%), while TSOs which do not deliver contracts are less affected (15%).

One of the participants in the survey told us this afternoon:

We have recently attempted a third round of recruitment for two vacant posts (out of 8 employees). In order to try to attract applicants, we reimagined the roles to allow for trainees as well as experienced staff. We received 25 applications for two posts, with 20 of them applying as trainees. We shortlisted 8 of these. 7 pulled out prior to interview, so we ended up only interviewing one, who was not suitable. So our vacancies continue. These vacancies are related to project grants and the funders are very sympathetic but the projects are unable to go ahead without the staff, which means that there is unmet service need. Very frustrating. We will be trying again in January 2023.”

Reliance on regular volunteers

There are about 4.3 million regular volunteers working in the Third Sector. In workload terms, this is equivalent to 190,000 full-time equivalent employees.

Many organisations are facing challenges in sustaining the energy produced by volunteers. Over a quarter of organisations (26%) have been losing volunteers who joined them during the Coronavirus pandemic.  41 per cent of the biggest organisations (income £1million – £25million) are losing these volunteers compared with 18 per cent of the smallest TSOs (income below £10,000).

The composition of the volunteer workforce has been changing in the last two years.

  • Nearly half of organisations (48%) state that it has been harder to hold on to older volunteers.
  • A fifth of TSOs (20%) say that they now have more volunteers aged under 30.
  • Just over a fifth of organisations (22%) report that their voluntary workforce has become more ethnically diverse.

Sustaining support from trustees is vital for organisations: but 17 per cent of organisations report that the number of trustees has fallen over the last two years. Trustee numbers have fallen most in North East England, East of England, South West England and in Wales (all with net losses of trustees between 3-5%).

Regular volunteers produce about one fifth of the ‘energy’ that the Third Sector injects into its work. And in micro and small organisations, volunteers put in all or most of that energy.

  • 80 per cent of organisations say that they rely mainly on volunteers who can commit time on a very regular basis.
  • Over three quarters of TSOs rely on volunteers who can work unsupervised. Reliance on regular volunteers who can work unsupervised is stronger in organisations based in more affluent areas (83%) than in the poorest areas (64%).
  • 85 per cent of organisations state that they could not keep going without regular volunteers.
  • 65 per cent of regular volunteers are reported to be service users and beneficiaries.

Diversity in sector leadership

In recent years, concerns have been widely expressed about equal access to leadership opportunities in the Third Sector for all members of the community who feel that they have a contribution to make.

Until now, debate has been hampered by a lack of reliable data on diversity and inclusion in Third Sector leadership.

  • In England and Wales, university graduates constitute 70 per cent of chairs of boards and 63 per cent of chief officers.
  • A majority of chairs are men (55%) but there are more women chief officers (62%).
  • 10 per cent of chairs consider themselves to have a disability compared with 8 per cent of chief officers.
  • About 8 per cent of chairs and 10 per cent of chief officers are Black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities.
  • Nearly 60 per cent of chairs are retired.

There are some indications of improvement to diversity in leadership since 2019.

  • The percentage of women chairs has increased from 43 to 46 per cent.
  • Chairs with disabilities have increased from 9 to 12 per cent.
  • Black, Asian and other minority ethnic chairs have risen from 6 to 8 per cent.
  • The proportion of graduate chairs has also increased from 64 to 70 per cent – suggesting that leadership opportunities for non-graduates at board level have worsened.

There has also been change in the population of chief officers of organisations.

  • The percentage of graduate chief officers has fallen slightly from 70 to 66 per cent.
  • The percentage of women chief officers has fallen from 65 to 62 per cent.
  • The percentage of chief officers with disabilities has risen from 7 to 10 per cent.
  • The proportion of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority group chief officers has risen only very slightly from 8 to 9 per cent.

Regional variations in the proportion of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority chief officers tend to reflect local demographics. However, London stands out from other all areas where 26 per cent of organisations have Black, Asian and other ethnic minority chief officers compared with an average of just 8 per cent across England and Wales.

Investing in people

The energy that Third Sector organisations can employ to achieve their social objectives is dependent upon the enthusiasm, skill and commitment of volunteers and employees.

Attracting and retaining people to work in organisations may be affected by the quality of the working environment and organisational commitment to training and personal development opportunities.

Overall provision of support for staff and volunteers is quite limited.

  • Only 45 per cent of organisations have a dedicated training budget.
  • 29 per cent of organisations provide digital training.
  • Fewer than 60 per cent of organisations offer flexible working and
  • Just 53 per cent of organisations make provision to support personal development.

But underlying factors help to explain why overall investment in people appears to be quite low. Organisational size makes a big difference. Only 16 per cent of micro organisations (income below £10,000) hold a training budget compared with 91 per cent of the biggest (income £5million – £25million).

The extent of investment in training and personal development is strongest in organisations based in the least affluent areas – where organisations tend to be larger and are more likely to be involved in public service delivery for local authorities or national government departments or delivering major grant-funded social programmes.

During the pandemic, there was much news coverage about organisations embracing digital technologies to shift services online.

But investment in digital training is limited. Fewer than 46 per cent of medium-sized organisations (income £50,000 – £250,000) provide digital training and even amongst the biggest organisations (income £1million – £25million), only 72 per cent do so.

Reacting to the news Rob Williamson, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation said:

“We have seen issues of recruitment across many sectors in the UK, the NHS perhaps being the highest profile, but it is clear it is hitting the charitable sector hard too and our communities will suffer. The last three years have seen the sector step up to support the most vulnerable in our communities, first during covid and now the cost-of-living crisis, but they are burnt out and many are leaving. With increased costs and reduced funding, organisations aren’t always able to pay high enough wages to attract staff. We and many other funders are looking at how we can support them to raise wages and cover costs. Our cost-of-living fund is supporting organisations over the winter to do that – but more needs to be done” 

The report’s author, Professor Tony Chapman, St Chad’s College, Durham University said:

“This is an especially difficult time for many Third Sector organisations with rising inflation, high energy costs and rising demand for services. About 40 per cent of Voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises are employers. Many of them are now facing serious problems associated with staff recruitment and retention. The report’s findings indicate that tackling the issue of traditionally low pay in the Third Sector is becoming an urgent priority.”

Sylvia Copley Chief Executive at ShARP (Shiney Advice and Resource Project) said:

“Here at ShARP we kept going right through Covid – that was hard but our funders were really helpful, and we were able to adapt delivery by moving to remote working so were able to provide telephone advice to people who needed it throughout national and local lockdowns. As we emerged from Covid we then saw this cost-of-living crisis coming and despite planning for increased costs there is now the possibility of a gap in our finances emerging, particularly for core running costs. As a Living Wage Employer we reviewed salaries about 18 months ago and moved pay for all staff above that level. But we now know that the cost of living crisis is going to hit us all impacting on the value of our salaries as things like travel costs and day to day living costs rise significantly. Our advisers will experience financial pressure along with everyone else, and whilst we can help with things like providing extra hours in the short term that is not sustainable in the longer term… we are having to reshape and expand services to meet  ever increasing need in our communities whilst at the same time we are facing rising costs for utilities and other core costs, have fewer volunteers to support us, and have a tired, depleted workforce many of whom have not had a proper break in two years”. 

The report can be downloaded here:

All other reports from Third Sector Trends can be found here: Community Foundation: Third Sector Trends.

Metropolitanisation and ‘left behind places’ in France and England

John Mawson, Professorial Fellow of Policy&Practice, is to begin the next stage of research on a new French Government approach to urban development. This will involve a detailed case study of the City of Tours and its surrounding region in the Loire Valley. The research builds upon previous work which involved a comparative analysis of recent trends in urban policy in the UK and France.

French and British governments have been promoting cross-boundary, collaborative municipal partnerships. These initiatives were designed to achieve critical mass in strategic planning and the delivery of key infrastructure and public services (such as employment, housing and public transport) to their central cities and hinterlands.

In England, Mayoral Combined Authorities and in France Métropoles have been introduced to improve national productivity and growth, It is hoped that benefit will spread to more disadvantaged urban and rural communities in the wider city regions.

Policy and management developments have been assessed in a series of case studies across France, supported by a French Interministerial Research Agency (including the Tours case study). The study in Tours started in 2017 involving researchers from the University of West of England, the University of Tours, and politicians, practitioners and local community representatives.

Implications were explored at a national conference in 2019 and findings were published in 2020 in The Governance of Métropoles and city regions: territorial reforms, spatial imaginaries and new forms of cooperation*

Professor Mawson and his colleagues will be undertaking a five-year review of the effectiveness of the Tours Metropole. This will include appraisal of governance and evaluation of social and economic impact. The work will be supported by the European Union’s Erasmus Programme.

*Mawson, J., Demazière, C. and Hall, S. (2020) ‘Les Métropoles Francaise vues d’Angleterre: un jeu entre l’etat et les notables?’  Chapter 2 in Demazière, C. et al. La Gouvernance des Métropoles et des regions urbaines.  Inter Ministerial Research Programme.  PUCA, Lyon.

Can some of the most challenged areas of the UK level up?

Levelling Up the UK Economy: the need for transformative change, published by Palgrave.

Jonathan Wistow, Fellow of Policy&Practice and Luke Telford (University of York) have just published this new book on the ‘levelling-up’ policy debate. The official launch at the University of York is on December 14th.

The authors critically assess current policy initiatives about levelling up the UK economy by pulling together a wide range of evidence to provide insights about the agenda from macro, meso and micro levels of analyses. This includes qualitative data from a focused study with directors of regeneration across several ‘left behind’ local authorities and 25 residents of Redcar & Cleveland in Teesside. 

The book frames the debate against a backdrop of historical analysis and looks at the shift from post-war capitalism to a post-industrial and neoliberal society which has exacerbated spatial inequalities. Using empirical evidence from Redcar & Cleveland, the authors show how social and economic policy has exposed deindustrialising areas to insecure employment, crime and anti-social behaviour. And also has produced resentments about political voice and representation.

The book has received a very positive critical reception from highly respected academics working in this field:

“This excellent book provides a powerful, critical examination of Levelling Up, and grounds its assessment within a much-needed political economy perspective.  It traces the ‘left behind places’ problem to the nature and evolution of UK capitalism itself. Further, it goes beyond the usual aggregate statistical metrics used to measure and discuss the scale of the ‘left behind places’ problem, to delve into the lived experiences of those living in those places. By means of this political economy and qualitative approach, the authors rightly conclude that the UK Government’s Levelling Up programme is unlikely to deliver on its promises to transform economic fortunes and social conditions in ‘left behind places’, and may not even prevent geographical inequalities from widening still further. This stimulating book is essential reading for all academic scholars and policymakers concerned with the UK’s ‘left behind places problem’.” (Professor Ron Martin, Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography, University of Cambridge, UK.)

“Academics and policymakers alike need to read The UK Government’s Levelling Up Agenda by Luke Telford and Jonathan Wistow. This book is the most comprehensive qualitative study available on the ‘Levelling Up’ chapter in the policy history of local and regional economic development. Theoretically informed, interdisciplinary, and rich in policy nuances and political insight, the authors walk us through the rise and fall of this policy narrative. Rather than just leave things there, the authors conclude by offering an ambitious alternative path for our ‘left behind places’. This is social policy at its very best.” (Martin Jones, Vice Chancellor and Professor of Human Geography, Staffordshire University, UK)

“This is one of the most significant efforts to analyse the UK government’s Levelling Up programme. Not only does it brilliantly chronicle the moral, social and economic reasons for addressing geographical inequality, but it further details the transformative changes necessary to overcome the significant barriers that people in ‘left behind’ locales face in terms of gaining access to well-paid, secure employment. Recognising that spatial disparities in the UK are deeply entrenched and long-running, Telford and Wistow argue for a ‘phase shift’ in political economy that goes beyond the ‘sticking plaster’ approach to the present, which they suggest is unlikely to spread opportunity, revive communities and restore local pride. This book is likely to garner much interest from those interested in trajectories of inequality and the implications for place, people and government policy.” (Professor Julie MacLeavy, Professor of Economic Geography, University of Bristol, UK)

If you want to get a copy of the book, click here.

Social Policy, Political Economy and the Social Contract

Dr Jonathan Wistow’s new book ‘Social Policy, Political Economy and the Social Contract’ has been published by Policy Press. Jonathan, who is a Fellow of Policy&Practice and Associate Professor in Durham University’s Department of Sociology, has produced a challenging and original study which promises to energise debates nationally and internationally on the role and efficacy of social policy.

The book has already received considerable acclaim: “Going beyond sticking-plaster solutions to economic and social problems, Wistow digs down to the deeper causes by examining social policy in the context of political economy.” Andrew Sayer, Lancaster University.

“In this important contribution, Jonathan Wistow shows how solutions to social crises have too often been forged while ignoring their complex structural economic and political roots. Social policy analysis, he argues, needs to be much more closely integrated into the wider question of political economy.” Andrew Lansley, author of The Richer, The Poorer.

Focusing on individual, intergenerational and societal outcomes related to health, place and social mobility in England, he draws on empirical evidence to show how the social contract produces long-standing, highly patterned and inequitable consequences in these areas. Globalisation and the political economy simultaneously contribute to the extent and nature of social problems and to social policy’s capacity to address them effectively.

Applying social contract theory, this book shows that society needs to take ownership of the outcomes it produces and critically interrogates the individualism inherent within the political economy.

Details on how to obtain a copy of the book can be found here.

Third Sector Trends 2022: first report published on sector structure, purpose, energy and impact

Third Sector Trends 2022 first report: structure, purpose, energy and impact of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in England and Wales.

Third Sector Trends has been running since 2008. The study has been surveying the sector every three years since 2010 and as such is the largest survey of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in England and Wales.

In 2022, 6,071 responses were received across England and Wales (an average of ~600 responses in each region). Designed to complement NCVOs UK Civil Society Almanac, it is the only fully representative longitudinal survey which can produce robust and detailed comparative analysis at a regional and national level.

This is the first of five reports from Third Sector Trends 2022.

Key findings:

  • There are about 200,000 registered voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises in England and Wales (including registered charities, cooperatives, community benefit societies, community interest companies, community amateur sport clubs and other non-profit making registered societies and businesses).
  • Micro and small organisations (with income below £50,000) constitute 63 per cent of all registered organisations but only receive 0.6 per cent of sector income. The biggest organisations (income £1million to £25million) receive 72 per cent of sector income but comprise just 5 per cent of organisations in the sector.
  • The sector employs about 1.1 million people, or 3 per cent of national employment. Employees provide about 80 per cent of sector energy while regular volunteers deliver about 20 per cent of sector energy.
  • There are major disparities in sector distribution regionally. For example in South West England, there are 4.2 organisations per 1,000 population compared with 2.7 in North East England. In the most affluent areas the proportion of small and micro organisations is much higher than in the poorest areas.
  • There are about 4.3 million regular volunteers working for VCSE organisations who deliver 312 million hours of work annually. If this work had to be paid for, it would equal £2.9bn (if valued at the level of the national living wage) or £4.9bn if valued at 80 per cent of average wages).
  • The purpose and impact of the sector is hard to pin down because boundaries between different beneficiaries are blurred. Using broader clusters of activity, the report shows that:
    • 30 per cent of organisations say that they have a strong impact on improving personal health (including disabilities, physical and mental health), 33 per cent on social wellbeing (e.g. tackling social isolation).
    • 34 per cent of organisations say that they have a strong impact on community wellbeing, but only 20 per cent of organisations have a strong impact on financial security (such as poverty, homelessness and unemployment).

Many organisations cover more than one area of impact. For example, 22 per cent cover both personal health and social wellbeing. 8 per cent of organisations say they have an impact in all four areas of activity.

  • The financial value of some sector activity can be measured – but much of the value of the sector’s work is ‘intangible’. But it is possible to give values to both types of impact. The value of the ‘energy’ the sector injects into society equals about £54 billion each year (that is the value of the time people put in to make things happen) – but the value added equals £191 billion or 3.2 times the injected energy.

Reflecting on the figures, Rob Williamson Chief Executive of the Community Foundation said:

“This first report clearly shows the importance of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in terms of size and employment in England and Wales. We already know the sector is the glue that holds society together by providing help and support to many in need but at a basic level it employs and pays tens of thousands of people and puts millions into local economies. Without it we would be poorer in so many ways.”

“The vital role the sector plays is why we at the Community Foundation have set up a cost-of-living fund to support organisations which may be struggling with the double whammy of increasing demand and increasing costs.”

Sarah Glendinning, Regional Director of the CBI said:

“Where both the private and voluntary sectors come together, both sides stand to benefit in spades. This report shows the huge value of the voluntary sector to the North East and the vital role it plays at the heart of local communities. Ultimately the deeper and more committed the partnership between businesses and the social sector, the greater the benefits for the region.” 

Rhiannon Bearne, Director of Policy and Representation, North East England Chamber of Commerce said:

“Once again this important study shows how and why economic and social impact go hand-in-hand. In the North East charities don’t just offer vital services and support for our communities: they contribute a massive £1.6bn in value, creating good jobs and helping create a strong economy. With a difficult winter ahead of us all the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland’s new cost of living fund will make a real difference to this vital part of our region’s economy.”

The report’s author, Professor Tony Chapman, St Chad’s College, Durham University said:

“Where the added value generated by the voluntary sector ‘lands’ is hard to predict. This is because the impact of charities’ work isn’t always immediate. A real strength of the sector is its ability to accumulate energy and value which is produced collectively by many charities.

Keeping things ticking over in civil society often nips problems in the bud before they become critical needs. Without that support, individual needs are undermined and the strength of community ties can fray. And in times of local or national crisis, such as in the Coronavirus pandemic or the current cost-of-living challenge, the latent power of the sector can be released to tackle problems quickly and vigorously.”

The report can be downloaded here:

The report does not include a detailed description of the research methodology. If you’d like to read in more detail on the methods used, please see this report (where there are further links to a report on analytical techniques).

We ask people who took part in the study to tell us how things are going once they’ve seen the report: Here are some responses (anonymised where necessary with [square brackets]).”I wonder if there is space to talk about how people running and working in the third sector often do so for several entities? I think for the financial impact element, this should be taken into account, as in terms of value this is often missing, The reliance on people who by nature, want to make a difference, and therefore end up doing several roles across organisations. This often is missed in studies.

“Our organisation would fall into the category of semi-formal, medium sized TSO, as described in section 2.3 of the trends report. The principle challenge we have, is that we have historically relied on the leadership of a single dedicated individual to push the organisation forward. We are now in a position where the current leader is departing, and there is no replacement...

Recruitment has been largely unstatisfactory and unsuccessful because: a) The recruitment process can’t measure traits like long-term dedication and motivation. b) The previous leaders were intrinsically motivated—the pay wasn’t as big a concern. The “great resignation” phenomena has meant that less people are willing to go above and beyond and—rightfully—demand more for their work. In practice, this has meant the pool of applicants is much smaller/not there...

On top of this, several key non-management staff have left and cannot be recruited until our leadership position has been filled. As with the above, we have relied on the intrinsic motivation of long-term staff rather than employment benefits and pay. With our current budgets, we simply cannot match other organisations, so recruiting has been a serious obstacle for us. We have seriously questioned whether our organisation is viable in this new world. It will be such a shame to close because we are a specialised charity supporting people with learning disabilities, and one of the last truly local organisations in our area.

“Our marine conservation charity has already engaged with more beneficiaries (almost 20K in 10 months) than ever before despite doing a lot less-organised face-to-face events. We are working smarter online which is essential if we are to achieve net zero targets set by government. Online activities make us more productive and efficient. As a result we are able to deliver more nationally and internationally.”

“Awaiting gas and electric bills. Water has already increased .”

[Our] prime services are advocacy, entitlements and accessible travel and a walk in centre with peer support and volunteering. We recognise that in addition to this the societal attitudes and unconscious bias regarding disablement underpins many aspects of the lives of people with disabilities. We have had increasing difficulties funding our services that span a range of situations regarding disablement including carers. We operate a mix of referrals, self-referrals, word of mouth contacts and an outreach programme of regular connection with disability specific groups…

We have had extreme difficulty funding our services. One of the major factors post lockdown has been the impact from major and regional charities that serve specific disabilities. They all lost income in lockdown, through a mix of charity shops not being open, other fundraising mechanisms being paused and some shift of public donations towards endemic related causes and appeals. Their financial models seem to be that significant elements of their workforce were funded by this income generation…

“This has had a number of impacts, firstly much of that workforce was not core functions but rather outreach and support elements relative to their specific disability. They were the first part of the workforce to go and this has had an impact on end users. The larger charities ‘circled their wagons’ in order to survive. Post lockdown they are now looking to return to their previous structure.

This has led them to start of looking for funds from sources such as foundations and lotteries. This has created a number of imbalances for our charity. The larger disability specific charities have both marketing departments (which are specific and trying to boost support for specific disabilities) and can afford to employ the strategists, bid writers, researchers and fund managers to enter the competitive world of fund applications. Most of these charities deal with the specific disability and not the societal issues that span most disabilities. These charities, which operate as any business, are now busy competing with each other and smaller charities and there is a distinct imbalance of equitable access.”

Third Sector Trends 2022: emerging findings

The sixth iteration of the Third Sector Trends Survey ran across England and Wales this summer producing a nationally representative sample with 6,070 responses.

We’ll be looking at the structure, purpose, energy, finances, relationships and impact of the voluntary and community sector in the coming months. But to begin with, a briefing report has been written to provide some tasters on things that will be explored later in greater depth.

Big representative studies that are regularly repeated help to show the effect of major events such as the Coronavirus pandemic or the current cost-of-living crisis. And often the findings can be surprising.

As can be seen in the chart below, larger charities have come out from the pandemic quite well financially but smaller ones were more likely to struggle.

Early headline findings about the financial confidence of the voluntary sector can be compared with previous rounds of the study. Compared with 2019, it looks like charity leaders’ confidence has bounced back. When we did an interim study in the depths of the Covid crisis (June 2020) we found that only 13 per cent of organisations thought that income would rise in the next two years.

The complete analysis of the data from Third Sector Trends will take many months. Results will be published in regular briefings and reports. But you can find a briefing on the early headline findings here.

We asked people who had taken part in the survey, if they’d like to tell us how things are going, now that the results had started to come out. Here are some examples (some quotations have been edited to preserve anonymity using [square] brackets). If you have read this page once before, new stories from charities appear at the top:

“[We] operate within and around the Carlisle area, we deal solely with young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 years of age. Our main focus being the prevention of homelessness with that age group. Like many cities and towns up and down the country, [our medium sized city] does have a problem with suitable accommodation for many of the underprivileged groups or individuals. and there is very little support in the area, or likely to be. We have noticed the need in our client base to extend the age of support and that the difficulties are becoming more complex with the cost-of-living issues, and the impact of the COVID pandemic on the well-being of a number of people. What we see is more difficulties being presented but less face-to-face, so we have adapted to using facebook and the telephone to resolve a number of issues. The lack of face-to-face itself is a complex issue in that, as a supporting agency you are never quite sure if people don’t want to come or that their social anxiety is hitting new highs. With our client group I believe it is the latter. And to counter this, we offer counselling.”

“Our work is evolving from mainly working to resolve social isolation and improve people’s wellbeing to now needing to focus on how we can help people focus on their core needs such as heating and eating. We are working to figure out how we can best address these issues – but we may have issues around our capacity and are concerned for the wellbeing of our staff and volunteers who are working with these issues front line.”

We are working in challenging environments which are becoming even more complex with the cost-of-living crises when we have not yet fully come out of the Covid-19 Pandemic. There is a reduction of funding available for groups to apply for or not enough core funding to support organisations who are struggling to provide much needed local services. Many of our projects are time expiring and there is not enough replacement funding available to keep much of the good working going.”

“We are busier than ever now and it’s a real challenge”

“We’re doing pretty well- we’re doing lots of training for new members, which is good!”

“We are doing well – the staff team is excellent. That said, we have a fairly substantial gap in our budget (largely for salaries) this year – we do have funding applications in, in progress and planned, and it’ll be OK… but it’s a constant challenge! We also haven’t yet properly costed the impact of ‘cost-of-living’ – this will have an effect on staff, too.”

“Covid dealt a hard blow to membership and income generation, and the projects that we could undertake. We are recovering.”

“We are a mental health charity working with people in a deprived part of the country. We deliver a range of services aimed at improving mental health, preventing crisis and developing resilience. We face a challenging funding environment with competition for funding higher than ever and rising costs. We face a recruitment crisis like many places but it is enhanced by our inability to pay market rates. The NHS trusts instead of working alongside us and investing in our skills and community knowledge seem intent on pitting themselves as our competitors in a bid to justify their own income streams.”

“We have just re-opened after the pandemic. We are on a reduced timetable due to loss of many volunteers. We are trying to gauge the demand for our services after a two-and-a-half year closure.”

“Housing development in this area of the South West has increased phenomenally. This has pushed agricultural land prices up and put land purchase beyond our reach. We are an environmental organisation and are dismayed at the Government’s war on nature. The removal of European protections for wildlife and our environment is depressing for our members.”

“We have now stabilized our number of third age member numbers which are now slowly increasing. There is still some concern over Covid issues from some.”

Stable and becoming financially sustainable.”

“With a lease responsibility for the building we are experiencing difficulties with the cost of energy and heating.”

“The operating environment right now is far more challenging than at any time during the pandemic. Statutory thresholds are so high that demand is escalating to levels that are not possible to respond to in the VCSE sector and much of that demand is not best-fit with our services. Far too many people with severe and enduring mental health challenges and people in real emotional crisis are being referred to counselling and therapy services when they are not in a position to be able to begin a therapeutic healing and recovery journey. They need crisis support, stabilisation and, in some cases, medical intervention. They are being pushed from pillar to post which is re-traumatising. The system around us is spiralling downwards and is breaking. With future prospects of cuts and continued under-investment this will only get worse. The story is the same for any charity we speak to that is trying to support victims and survivors of abuse and violence or other vulnerable individuals.”

“Tough. Retail sales down. Room hire okay but people don’t want any increases in fees.”

“We are currently in negotiations to join up with another group which would help both our groups in different ways.”

“For [our charity], the past five years have been a real struggle. There has been no funding available from the local City or County Council. The whole of the COVID period was a huge disappointment – especially trying to force vulnerable adults to use on-line learning from home. These adults barely have money to buy food and are reliant on food banks and during the COVID period their Universal Credit was cut by £20. These adults (many who cannot read or write English) were forced to look for employment and prove to the job centres that they were actively looking for employment. Yet, centres like ourselves were forced to close and not provide the basic services that we provided in the community.”

“The Energy crisis has encouraged people to take up our energy services. Unfortunately, we are a micro charity and have no paid employees, it is difficult to keep up with the demand. Funding is so difficult to find.”

To find out more about how Third Sector organisations manage to keep going through difficult times, see our latest report: Going the distance: how Third Sector organisations work through turbulent times – St Chad’s College Durham (stchads.ac.uk)