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Gillian Scholes and Seth Reynolds

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Rob Berkeley

Thanks for the analysis on ‘levelling up’ which seems to draw distinctions between geographies as wealthy or poorer but not between people within or between those areas. Do you get the impression that there have been developments of these plans as a result of the pandemic or has the evidence of (growing) ethnic inequality been conveniently forgotten, or filed in the ‘too difficult’ box?

Cynically, this fits with the widely discredited report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, and the GEO’s odd direction of travel that appears to argue that inequalities can be simply wished away. While keen to give government the benefit of the doubt as plans are still in development, these policies could represent preparation for a brazen and blatant adoption of the pork-barrel to British politics – with the concomitant risks of corruption. At what point will the values of the voluntary sector run up against what may widely be seen as an attempt to buy votes with new bus routes?

How might the ‘black box’ statements of the summer of 2020 issued by so many in the sector and beyond, asserting support for efforts to reduce persistent patterns of racial injustice, be turned into meaningful action when government funding appears set against ‘levelling up’ closing gaps between citizens experiencing social exclusion related to their ethnic identities?

Tom Collinge NPC

Hi Rob,

Thanks for engaging with the research and your questions, which get to the heart of a lot of what we worry about with this agenda too.

You are right that when drawing distinctions between geographies we have not gone as granular as is possible when using the IMD but have kept the analysis at local authority level and that this means we miss data on the inequality within these local authorities. But it is something we are very keen to explore from now on.

I think there is a major danger that inequality within administrative geographies will be overlooked and because this inequality is likely to play out along ethnic lines, there is a danger of the ethnic disparities being overlooked. For example, many London boroughs with high levels of deprivation, often experienced along ethnic lines are only ‘tier 2’ areas in the levelling up fund which should be cause for concern.

That said, the prospectuses etc we reviewed are very high level at the moment,  but they may get more specific and we think there is still an opportunity to influence the way this all happens in reality – which I think plays into your second point. There are issues with the way these funds have been devised so far, which may lead the voluntary sector to want to keep its distance. I think there is still the potential to influence these really substantial pots of funding in a positive way and more than that influence the whole ‘levelling up’ agenda.
Ultimately what is applied for under these funds depends on local government and they are hopefully more attuned to inequality within their area. Potentially they might be a better target to influence and one the voluntary sector is more networked with and attuned to.

To your final point re ‘black box’ supportive statements and what the sector will actually ‘do’ in the context of the current government funding to close gaps related to exclusion and ethnic identity; It’s a bit trite but I think organisations can take two broad stances. They can try and shape this agenda, or they can focus on holding the government to account.. I think within the sector there is room for both and the two can support each other. Whether they see either of these approaches as being about addressing racial injustice I don’t know, but it is a good opportunity to crack open that black box and for organisations to be explicit about what they are doing and why.

I hope this made sense and it would be good to keep talking. We have an event on the 27th where we’ll be discussing this topic and it would be great if you wanted to come along. Email me on tom.collinge@thinknpc.org for details.

Suzanne Jacob, SafeLives CEO

Frontline practitioners are at significant risk of exhaustion and burnout. In the domestic abuse sector, they have spent 12 months drawing trauma into their home, with escalation in risk to victim/survivors of abuse and heightened worry about their ability to get help. Practitioners are reporting everything from taking their phones to bed so as not to miss calls, to feeling like they’re on ‘suicide watch’ because mental health services have closed, leaving DA workers as the only available support.

At SafeLives we sought emergency Government funding to help us provide support to these practitioners. They need an outlet for their experiences, a chance to build personal resilience, get dedicated wellbeing support and, where a situation is particularly acute, access additional clinical supervision to enhance what their organisation can provide.

If we’re to keep asking specialist voluntary sector workers (themselves worried about childcare, COVID infection, bereveament..) to fill in gaps in state provision, we need to support them properly. Otherwise we’re on a constant merry-go-round of workers joining the sector but then leaving after just a few years, because it’s damaging them personally.

Seth Reynolds, NPC

Thanks Suzanne. Of course you’re completely right. We have taken a ‘services’ rather than a human approach to frontline support, with workers being seen of as service deliverers, and the organisations they work for as service providers. We must hope that the experience of the last year and the renewed appreciation for these frontline workers will lead to a greater understanding of the need to support the supporters, and more resources to do so. Better supported, better resourced frontliners must be a key part of a ‘rethought/ rebuilt’ voluntary sector

Chris Johnson (Chair, NEAT)

There will not be any significant re-building without significant training and re-training.
One huge obstacle for many voluntary groups is the inaccessibility of training.

The architects of this obstacle are the governing bodies for training courses, and the Education & Skills Funding Agency.
Some governing bodies have laid down course requirements that are labyrinthine and seem to be more about preserving the status quo of the awarding organisation that serving the needs of potential learners, especially in areas of disadvantage. Examples:
1.If you want to run our course, you have to attend a training day that is held only once a year at the other end of the country – on a weekday.
2. You can only run this course if youve done it yourself and you can provide a preference from someone whom we have already approved to run the course.
3. To run our course you must have a course director, a tutor, an internal verifier, an external verifier an a mentor – and they all must have a high-level qualification that you are unlikely to find in areas that have a legacy of low training levels.

The Education & Skills Funding Agency has had for several years a Minimum Contract Level of £500,000 – which deftly excludes any medium- or small-sized training provider. Much specialist training is provided only by small providers (e.g. community centres, freelance instructors) so is priced without any subsidy. According to research from the Department of Business, BME communities are 12% more likely to access training through voluntary organisations (such as community centres), so how does the ESFA’s policy fit with any notion of racial equality?

If the voluntary sector is to be anything more than litter-pickers and tea-makers, it needs training that is accessible and affordable.

Seth Reynolds, NPC

Chris- this is sobering reading. If we know that we need to reskill to rebuild then your point is a strong one. A “rethought, rebuilt” UK charity sector needs to have accessible and affordable training. Clearly some advocacy needs to be done to make the accreditation system more accessible, inclusive and less bureaucratic. I’m wondering how this advocacy can be done? I’m also wondering how alternative learning systems can be developed and made more accessible outside of the traditional accreditation system – perhaps our shift to digital will expand the peer learning and low-cost online learning opportunities available for the voluntary sector?