Covid-19, and the measures put in place to prevent its spread, have put organisations in an unprecedented position. Organisations are now facing extraordinary challenges - from safeguarding the people they support and their staff, to loss in funding and long-term sustainability concerns.
The environment in which we all find ourselves working in is changing rapidly. We are running a survey every two weeks to help us track the impact on voluntary organisations working in criminal justice. Our surveys look at the impact on operational delivery; staff and volunteers; finances; and arts provision in prisons.
Your answers help inform our advocacy work and support to the sector. The information is shared with the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service, the Justice Committee and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee inquiry on the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary sector. Please take just 10 minutes to complete our next survey, available here.
What we know so far
171 organisations took our first survey. Here I'll outline some of our key findings.
Organisations are struggling to operate their services
Just 7% of organisations told us they were fully operational. 19% said they were no longer able to operate at all. With regime changes in prisons and social isolation measures for those in the community, this unfortunately is to be expected for organisations that deliver frontline services.
Responses highlighted the particular challenges for those who deliver services in prison or who rely on community spaces to provide group work or workshops. Whilst many told us that administrative and existing office-based staff are able to continue their role from home, the responses indicate prison work has in many cases ceased and staff working directly with people in prison have been furloughed.
“All our staff have been furloughed, as we are unable to go into prisons.” - survey respondent
"All the premises we access for group work and support are closed and our group activity/intervention work has been suspended." - survey respondent
Despite this, the survey results also reiterated just how flexible organisations in this sector can be. Most have moved to provide their services primarily through telephone contact with clients (70%) and video conferencing (48%). Just 20% reported that staff are still leaving home to deliver frontline services. 69% also reported being able to do desk-based work using laptops and home computers.
The work of volunteers has been severely hampered
Volunteers are the vital backbone of many voluntary sector organisations but the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the ability of organisations to draw on this important source of support. 32% of respondents said none of their volunteers were able to volunteer for them and 25% said less than half were.
Staff are inevitably being impacted too. Whilst the majority of staff remain able to work in self-isolation, 12% of organisations said most or all of their staff were having to work reduced hours and a further 8% said all or most of their staff were unable to work at all.
As organisations face further uncertainty, this filters down to staff. Organisations are expecting to issue redundancies - 18% are expecting this to be the case, some within the next month. However, 35% said they were unsure if they will need to issue redundancy warnings. For many organisations, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic remains an unknown, even in the near future.
The sector’s financial position remains unclear
“The future is very uncertain, which is very unsettling” - survey respondent
The funding picture is mixed, with some organisations being able to deliver to their grant and contract requirements whilst others are unable to.
Many organisations that receive grant or contract funding for services delivered face-to-face will no longer be able to do so because of social distancing measures and will, where possible, have to adapt to different methods of supporting their clients which may not be in the terms of their agreed contract or grant.
It is vital that commissioners and funders work with organisations to adapt and relax requirements in order to enable services to be as flexible as possible in responding to Covid-19 restrictions. Most trusts and foundations have relaxed reporting requirements and this is very welcome. We were pleased to see this reflected in some of the responses.
“We're not [able to deliver on contract/grant requirements] in strict terms, but are in agreement with our commissioners to do what we can and are assured we will not be penalised for not achieving KPI's [key performance indicators]” - survey respondent
However, others indicated they still lacked certainty from some funders over this.
“Where our funders are prepared for us to amend the focus of our work - eg. to deliver some online best practice sessions … we can supply services. This is not yet clear from all funders we're working with.” - survey respondent
“Our work does not lend itself well to adaptation online … we are reliant on funders being prepared to provide unrestricted funding to enable us to continue to survive. Without this, we will definitely need to furlough staff or close the charity for the foreseeable future, as it looks unlikely we could diversify our services quickly enough to provide an online offer and meet grant/fund stipulations.” - survey respondent
We will continue to advocate for statutory contracts and grants to follow charitable trusts and foundations' lead on this.
In many respects it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions about the immediate and long term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the voluntary sector in criminal justice. However, it is clear that organisations are struggling to operate their normal levels of service; that there are concerns about financial sustainability and meeting funding requirements; and that volunteer numbers have been severely impacted.
To help us monitor how the voluntary sector in criminal justice is surviving in this time, track the changes it's going through, and meet the needs of organisations, Please continue to take our survey. The next deadline is Friday 17th April.
Latest on Twitter
It is imperative that government prioritises and resources the tackling of race inequality in the criminal justice system. It is crucial that voluntary orgs led by and focussed on racially minoritised people are listened to, taken seriously and consulted in these conversations. https://twitter.com/HMIProbation/status/1451073306791223296