Archives for the month of: January, 2013

by Kamal Mashjari of the Al-Ghazali Centre in Liverpool

What are the issues affecting the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voluntary sector and how are they different to the problems affecting the voluntary sector in general?

To begin with, both are facing the exact same issues in relation to a number of points. Both face the same level of cuts to the budgets they manage. Whether those funds come from councils, trusts or government doesn’t matter – they have all been reduced. Many organisations in our sector have folded recently and many more will go to the wall unless they are able to adapt to the changes taking place.

As councils are forced to reduce their budgets and staffing levels, they are withdrawing all but the very essential services they provide. This is increasing the demand on our services all the time and it will only get worse. So how will the voluntary sector cope with increased demand and with reduced budgets?

The BME sector in particular faces severe problems over the coming 18 months. Demand for its services will reach unprecedented levels due the changes taking place over this period in terms of reforms to welfare, housing, legal aid and the National Health Service. From April 2013, the government will begin the reform of welfare on a scale not seen in this country before. Changes to benefits will include the introduction of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ – where there will be a reduction in housing benefit for any additional rooms not used in a house. This will effect anyone under the age of 61 years old.

These changes demand co-ordinated action by BME organisations to ensure enough support is in place to meet the expected demand. Yet where I live in Liverpool, I am yet to see much co-ordination between organisations. The BME sector continues to suffer from a necessity to protect one’s own turf to the detriment of the communities that we serve. The worrying thing is that many of these groups may not last unless they change.

Youth provision has been decimated since 2010 and this will continue to create challenges, especially with the changes described above. The problems arise due to the demographics of the BME communities we serve. These communities are diverse and what you find in most places is a number of organisations doing very similar work that cater to the same community. This leads to a multitude of different groups for each community. So for example, for the Yemeni community in Liverpool, you find three or four groups doing similar work and catering the same for all the different communities within the BME sector. Funders see this and are demanding action. They are encouraging partnerships at every level in the voluntary sector to ensure that resources meet the most needy and provide the most value.

The statistics tell us quite clearly that BME organisations work with some of the most deprived people in our country – yet the BME sector, along with organisations that work with the white working class, are facing the most severe cuts. Most statistics in health, education and life opportunities show that our communities faced an uphill struggle even prior to the banking crisis and the introduction of austerity. Now those issues are being magnified by the government’s nullification of the equality agenda. Reducing equality is also likely to add to the sense of inequality in the BME sector and communities.

The BME sector lacks the capacity to deal with the onslaught heading its way unless radical change is implemented quickly. Organisations in neighbourhoods up and down the country really should be seeing where synergies lie with other groups in their areas to form support mechanisms and where necessary, form loose coalitions and even consortiums to bid and tender for contracts. For example, with the changes to the health service to be introduced from April 2013, there will be a massive opportunity for those groups that are capable of forming consortiums with a range of skills to offer to commissioners. After all, we know our communities better than anyone else, and will therefore be in a position to offer localised services to our communities in our buildings by encouraging the health agenda.

My advice to BME community groups is get wise quick, investigate what others are doing and form the networks I described above. There will be opportunities but they will demand sacrifices on our part and a lot of hard work.

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By Mike Wild, Chief Executive of Macc

Last week I went to the briefing where Manchester City Council announced their budget plans for the next 2 years. The key message is bleak: beyond the £170m cut from the Council’s annual budget in 2011, they now have to cut a further £80m per year. Manchester, it was said, has been hit hardest out of all the boroughs in Greater Manchester and out of all the major cities outside London. 

I don’t envy any of the Councillors or officers who had to do all the work to pull the proposals together. Never mind the brain-mashing complexity of local government financial models, cutting back services which are needed is not what anyone goes into public service to do. We can (and will) argue on where the cuts should be: I need to look at the detail and that takes a lot longer. Saying there is a further saving of £41m to be found from the children and adults services budgets doesn’t mean anything unless you can see what the impact is going to be on people who need support. This isn’t going to be a response to the budget itself. That’s for another day.

In some ways, the most chilling of all the statements this morning was that by 2018 the City Council will only be able to afford to meet its basic statutory duties. This is demonstrated by ‘the Graph of Doom’ in which the increasing cost and demand for services gradually overtakes the amount of money available to pay for them. 2018 is when it happens. (You can see the graph in the Council’s ‘Strategic Response’ document – click here to download.)

My first reaction is to get very angry at seeing how Manchester is trapped by the combined impacts of high levels of deprivation, worldwide recession, eye-watering cuts from Government and a welfare reform agenda which is hitting many of the most vulnerable people harder than anyone else. In that sense, it doesn’t matter about the politics behind this: you can have perfectly logical arguments about small state versus big state, dependency and self-reliance. What I cannot see how anyone can honestly call this situation ‘fair’.

But being angry doesn’t change anything other than my blood pressure! Fans of Public Image Ltd will know that anger is an energy – getting angry is when the adrenalin kicks in and you begin to do something. You have to find somewhere to start. My approach is that I need to start by seeing the landscape around me. Then I can begin to get an idea of what I think Macc and local voluntary and community groups can do about all of this.

The landscape is, obviously, Manchester. The whole economy of Manchester – I don’t just mean the ‘business’ economy, I mean in the place as a whole. The Centre for Local Economic Strategies has a deft way of describing the economy of an area as being made up of the public, commercial and social economies. The City Council’s budget plans are obviously the big player in the public economy and have an ambition to help reinflate the commercial economy getting more businesses to get more people into jobs and so on. That’s certainly important, but when the voluntary and community sector is at its best it’s ingenious and creative.

So, where to start? In some ways, I think we heard part of the answer the day before. Last Tuesday, the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission published their findings. You can find all the details at www.povertymanchester.org/ but the recommendations were:

  1. Promote initiatives designed to reduce energy bills across Greater Manchester
  2. Increase access to affordable finance and financial support services to improve financial literacy
  3. Create a coordinated and sustainable approach to tackling food poverty
  4. Increase access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables
  5. Explore ways of providing transport for residents in poverty
  6. Reduce digital exclusion by providing subsidised broadband and increasing provision of free ICT literacy learning
  7. Review the supply and demand of free legal advice services in Greater Manchester
  8. Improve the availability of quality childcare provision across the sub-region
  9. All public services in Greater Manchester should be ‘poverty proofed’
  10. Improve the planning and coordination of voluntary sector services to tackle poverty
  11. Develop a Greater Manchester Living Wage campaign
  12. Build upon and maximise the Greater Manchester City Deal to increase the benefits disadvantaged communities experience from economic growth
  13. Ensure all strategies within the sub-region designed to promote growth also have realistic plans for addressing poverty
  14. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority should take forward the work of the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission by establishing a Poverty Action Group
  15. Develop a neighbourhood level Greater Manchester Poverty Index
  16. Join forces with the Fairness Commissions in Liverpool, York Newcastle and London to campaign and lobby on common issues.

Part of my job is to think about what Macc can do to help the local voluntary and community sector address all of these things. Actually, the sector is already working on many of them and has been for years but there must be more we can do and I agree completely that joining things together with planning and co-ordination within the sector is important.

One of the things I’ve always believed about the voluntary and community sector is that ultimately our job is to do everything we can do not to be needed any more. Just at the moment, that seems further away than I can ever remember. So, we’ll feed in our comments to the Council about their budget but even more important we need our own plan.