To track the evolving impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary sector working in criminal justice, Clinks has been conducting a fortnightly survey of organisations.
We have been using the data gathered through these surveys to support organisations and advocate for the sector’s needs, providing briefings to senior officials at the Ministry of Justice, government select committees and funders.
In our latest survey, we continued to explore issues around service delivery, volunteer availability and financial support, but this time took a closer look at what impact Covid-19 and organisations’ different delivery models is having on the people they support.
What we know so far
Our latest survey had 77 responses which is a reduction from our last survey two weeks ago. This blog will outline some of its key findings and trends. See findings of our previous survey here.
Growing need for the sector’s services
Collectively the results of our four surveys highlight just how tirelessly organisations are working to adapt their services to this new environment and embrace remote ways of delivering. But as our previous survey highlighted, service provision across the sector - despite this flexibility - has decreased.
This latest survey continues to reinforce those findings. While many organisations continue to deliver remotely, most (55%) say they can only do this for some of their services. Of those services that cannot be delivered remotely, the vast majority of organisations (86%) say they are not able to provide them face-to-face at this time.
This loss of services is happening at a time when they are #nevermoreneeded. The majority of organisations (59%) agree or strongly agree that the needs of the people they work to support have become greater during the Covid-19 pandemic. But organisations cannot respond to the increased need for support as they would like to. 61% of organisations say the number of people they are able to support has decreased as a result of the pandemic.
“We were working with people in prison. We can no longer provide these services at a time when they need it more!” – survey respondent
The responses highlight significant concern amongst the sector about the mental health of those isolated and those locked in prison cells for 23 hours a day; the impact of the lockdown on families of people in contact with the criminal justice system; and the exacerbated effects of poverty and disadvantage in the pandemic.
“Needs around social isolation, mental health and domestic abuse have all increased, and the impact of existing poverty have been harder for people to manage” – survey respondent
There is clear concern expressed about the limits of remote or virtual support in these circumstances, with 68% of organisations feeling that the quality of support they are able to provide has decreased.
“Increased vulnerability and a virtual support mechanism can only offer so much support and reassurance to people.” – survey respondent
The continued need for financial support
Voluntary sector organisations have been grappling with their financial stability during the pandemic, facing losses in funding and uncertainty over how long they will be prevented from providing services and delivering on contracts and grants.
In our latest survey, 43% say they have had to use their reserves due to the Covid-19 pandemic, echoing the findings of our previous survey. Voluntary organisations working in criminal justice are typically smaller and on average they have far lower levels of reserves than the wider UK voluntary sector. The financial impact of Covid-19 could be particularly devastating for small organisations with few reserves, and will impact the ability of organisations to recover and remobilise.
“Our reserves will be greatly depleted by the end of this meaning we will be more conservative in our outlook and less able to be creative in our responses.” – survey respondent
Organisations are applying for emergency funding, with just over half (51%) saying this is the case, but applications for financial support from the government remains low. We are concerned this is exacerbated by a lack of clarity around what support is available, with organisations still reporting a lack of confidence in their understanding of the financial support available from government.
Consistent with our previous surveys, ineligibility also continues to be the largest barrier to organisations accessing financial support from the government. The Charity Finance Group has highlighted how many of the support measures put in place by the government don’t work for charities because they are designed for businesses who operate in very different ways.
The long view
The responses show how much concern there is amongst organisations about the long term financial impact of this crisis and their future sustainability. These concerns appear to be exacerbated by fears of future cutbacks in funding and economic challenges as wider society recovers from the pandemic.
Funders are redirecting funds for emergency funding and front-line services responding to Covid-19. While this support is positive in the short term for organisations during this crisis moment, there is concern that we are heading for cliff edge of support in the future. Organisations spoke about a lack of long-term grant funding opportunities, with many existing opportunities and decisions about grants being put on hold during this time. Organisations also expressed concern about not being able to deliver on grants and contracts for longer than had originally been anticipated and how long these would be guaranteed for. We’ve found that grant and contract managers have been largely flexible so far, but there are growing questions about how long that will last.
This has long term implications on organisations’ ability to remobilise to deliver future projects and services, with organisations having to look at abandoning their original business plans and cut back on the projects they’d hoped to build, with corresponding effects on long term job security for staff.
“We will not be able to meet the requirements of grants from funders this financial year, so whilst core staff are funded by the charity, many other frontline staff are funded by grants. Their job security is at risk, and yet will be most needed to manage the clients as we begin to return” – survey respondent
We will continue to use the data gathered from the past four surveys to inform our influencing work and the support we provide organisations. We are reviewing the surveys and will be launching them less frequently so that we don’t overburden the sector at this time.
We are also doing all we can to support the sector’s financial stability through this time. Clinks are pleased to have launched a £275,000 grant programme on behalf of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to support voluntary organisations working in criminal justice with an annual income under £500,000 to continue their work through the Covid-19 crisis. For more detail on the grant programme, please see here.
This grant programme is an important part of the support the sector needs to continue providing its services now and in the future. However, we recognise that the criteria and the total sum available means that not everyone in the sector who requires financial support will be able to benefit.
We will continue to advocate for the important work of the criminal justice voluntary sector and the needs of the sector’s beneficiaries to be recognised across government and with the philanthropic community and to call for further financial support for our sector.
Notes from the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) Special Interest Group on Covid-19
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We are extremely disappointed that the JCVI advice on phase 2 of the COVID vaccination programme does not prioritise people in prison and those who work with them, including voluntary sector staff and volunteers https://gov.uk/government/publications/priority-groups-for-phase-2-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-programme-advice-from-the-jcvi/jcvi-interim-statement-on-phase-2-of-the-covid-19-vaccination-programme