Coronavirus: Chancellor announces aid for charities

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Rishi SunakImage source, Getty Images

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a £750m package to keep struggling charities afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

The move follows concern that some charities are facing collapse, with income shrinking because of enforced shop closures.

Bigger charities such as Oxfam and Age UK have furloughed two-thirds of staff.

The measures involve cash grants direct to charities providing key services during the crisis.

As part of the scheme, £360m will be directly allocated by government departments to those charities.

Another £370m will go to small local charities, including those delivering food and essential medicines and providing financial advice.

'Gentleness of charity'

Announcing the move, Mr Sunak said the government could not match every pound of spending that the UK's 170,000 charities would have received this year.

He also said charities were eligible for help through the government's job retention scheme.

However, he said the government wanted to help the charities that were "on the front line of fighting the coronavirus".

"Shutting up shop at this moment would contravene their very purpose," he added.

Mr Sunak also said the government would match all donations to the BBC's Big Night In fundraising event on 23 April, pledging a minimum of £20m.

"We need the gentleness of charity in our lives," he said.

Image source, Jeff Kennedy
Image caption,
Jeff Kennedy has been using his own money to sustain the charity he runs

Charity organiser Jeff Kennedy, who runs the Community First Aid Corps in Morecambe, says he has yet to study the details of the Treasury's plan, but that his organisation urgently needs help.

In normal times, his six-person team provides first aid cover at public events in exchange for donations, but a string of cancellations has left the charity on the brink of going bust.

Mr Kennedy said his team had found a new role in the community by collecting shopping for vulnerable people and walking their dogs, but income had dried up, while accommodation and utility bills still needed to be paid.

"We don't know whether we'll be able to come through this," Mr Kennedy told the BBC. "I've been using my life savings, putting money in out of my own pocket, for a few weeks now, just to keep us afloat."

'Important support'

In the run-up to Mr Sunak's announcement, charities including the St John Ambulance Association had warned that they could go bust unless they received state aid.

The ambulance association will now receive assistance as part of the package, as will hospices, Citizens Advice and charities dealing with vulnerable children and victims of domestic abuse.

Sir John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said the set of measures from the Treasury would "offer important and welcome support for civil society at this very difficult time for us all".

But there was still "a long way to go", he added.

"Recognising the humbling generosity of the British public right now is so vital as we rally together in the face of such a national challenge," he said.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: "While this announcement is welcome, it falls far short of filling the financial black hole many organisations are facing.

"Ministers should continue to look at what additional measures can be made available.

"We must also see concerted action to guarantee this support can get to charities swiftly, to prevent further damage being done."