Covid-19 has revealed how unequal Britain is, both regionally and across different social groups. Charities, philanthropists, and funders seek to help those who need it most, but our research suggests civil society is weakest in more deprived areas. It’s not that there’s necessarily less community, but there is less of the formal infrastructure provided by charities to support people to overcome the social barriers to accessing employment, and to better health, confidence, and happiness. This is likely caused by the economic situation places find themselves in. As we rebuild, we must recognise that this shortage is a drag on recovery. Social and economic weakness reinforce each other.
Some so-called ‘left behind’ areas are being targeted by the government for ‘levelling up’. New policies and funding, starting with the Shared Prosperity Fund and the Levelling Up Fund, seek to address these imbalances. Announcements so far have focussed on ‘hard infrastructure’ such as roads and railways, alongside training and education.
Welcome though this is, truly ‘levelling up’ means tackling the other barriers to success as well. Preventing and mitigating the impacts of social challenges such as youth crime, poor mental health, addiction, abuse, and barriers to the labour market will provide a platform for prosperity.
Targeting differing needs
To help government direct money and activity where it’s needed, we need to understand and define which of the social needs, highlighted by the crisis, are standing in the way of ‘levelling up’. We also need to better understand current provision for meeting needs in different areas and in different social groups.
When we look at the success of the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), which combines various official data sets to give a relatively simple uncontroversial view of deprivation in an area, we can imagine the massive potential of civil society data to capture the needs that official statistics miss.
Better data sharing by funders and government through platforms such as 360Giving could lead to better coordination and targeting of funds. To make this work, we need the capacity and knowledge to interpret the data so it’s meaningful and can influence both government and philanthropists.
Armed with data on need and provision, the government, funders, and charities will be able to better target their activity and money to the people who need it. An organising body that can direct civil society may help to target support.
Funding the frontline
Smaller local charities can sometimes struggle to access large national funding pots. Channelling money through organisations with local knowledge who can coordinate local activity will help to ensure funding reaches those in need, as well as avoiding duplication of effort. Which organisations distribute funding and who is making the decisions will also be critical.
We’d love to know what you think in response to these questions, comment below with your thoughts, ideas and what else we should be asking…