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Covid-19: Civil Society and Charities

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 27th April 2020.

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Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the sustainability of (a) civil society organisations and (b) charities affected by the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Charities provide so much compassion and care to the most vulnerable in our country, and that role has never been more important than it is right now. In order to ensure that charities can continue their vital work in our national effort to fight the coronavirus, we announced a package of grants worth £750 million, alongside all the measures that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has already announced to support charities. That recognises the unique role of the sector in helping us through this crisis and bouncing back on the other side.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the Secretary of State for his very kind welcome. He will know that, after 10 years of the hollowing out of public services through austerity, it is many charities that are providing frontline public services to the most vulnerable people at the greatest risk during the national response to covid. Although I welcome the support that he has announced, he also knows, because the charities sector has told him, that it is nowhere near enough, representing just 20% of their usual income during a 12-week period. They, and we, want to hear an explicit commitment from him that further funding will be announced before it is too late and charities go to the wall. Vulnerable people are relying on them for support and the Government must not let them down. Can he guarantee that?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We will, of course, do everything that we can to support charities. It is worth noting that we have ensured, through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in discussions with the Treasury, that charities can access all the existing schemes. For example, they can benefit from VAT deferral, they can use the remaining business rate relief—they already get 80% relief; they can now get 100%—and they can furlough staff.

In addition, the measures have been designed to help the frontline. However, it is not just the £750 million that the Government have provided. There is huge work across philanthropic institutions—for example, £100 million from Barclays—not to mention what great charitable fundraising efforts, such as those of Captain Tom, have provided for the nation.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I thank the Secretary of State for his previous answer. I have charities that serve my constituents, such as Garden House Hospice, Tilehouse Counselling in Hitchin, the Harpenden Trust and many others. I commend him on the work that he has done with the Treasury on the charities package that has been agreed, but in relation to these quite small charities, can he give some further information to me and the House, and indeed to them, on how they can more easily access the fund that has been agreed, because some of them are saying that the next few weeks and months are looking very difficult?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. Charities such as Garden House and Tilehouse play a vital role in our country, and it is exactly those sorts of local charities on the frontline that we want to help. As part of the £360 million that is being distributed through Government Departments, up to £200 million will go to hospices. In addition, a further £310 million will be distributed by the National Lottery Community Fund. We are finalising the eligibility criteria, and I will write to him, and to all hon. Members, explaining the process and the criteria for those applications.

Of course, that sits alongside the great public national effort. In particular, I welcome the £33 million that has been raised so far by “The Big Night In”. That has been matched by Government fundraising, and sits alongside such things as the 2.6 London marathon challenge.