Discussions about the cost of living have become as commonplace as COVID-19 only a short time ago, with an enormous impact rippling out far and wide. Here at Aurora, we have seen huge repercussions for our service users as well as a shift in the support they require from charities like ours.
However, another major impact that is less well known, is that on charities themselves.
- 86% of charitable organisations are worrying about the effect of cost of living increases will have on those that depend on their services.
- 59% are concerned that people will not continue to or begin to donate to their cause because of the cost of living crisis.
- Over 80% of nonprofits expect to struggle with increased cost of utilities for their own venues, as well as managing wage increases.
- Overall, 35% believe their organisation will struggle to survive altogether.
We echo many of these fears. This year has seen huge changes for Aurora – and while supporting the women and children who desperately need our services will always come first, different challenges due to the cost of living have continued to crop up along the way.
Here we share some of the factors impacting ours – and many other – charities, as well as how we are striving to mitigate the effects.
How are charities being affected by the cost of living?
We are seeing many charities struggling to raise necessary funds and even make ends meet. It’s a worrying time, with a sharp spike in people seeking help from these charities, putting additional pressure on a sector that’s feeling the weight of the cost of living.
From Aurora’s perspective, we are doing everything that we can to minimise the impact so that we can keep delivering our much-needed service to survivors and victims; this includes applying for additional core funding, adjusting the way that we work with service users and finding ways to better support our staff, too.
Some of the ways that we have been affected include:
1. More people need to use our services.
Our main duty line has seen an increase in calls of 25% in the second quarter of this year (April-June 2023). This is a major spike, and one we largely attribute to the range of ways that the cost of living crisis is impacting our users. This has, as a result, led to an adjustment in the way that we support them.
“In our prison groups, a lot of the women are saying they are having reduced visits due to family and friends not being able to afford to travel. This can have a significant impact on the women’s mental health and increase their feelings of isolation, especially when they cannot see their children. We have incorporated extra work in our sessions to offer emotional support to women affected in this way.” said Dr Shonagh Dillon, Aurora’s CEO.
“We have also noticed a huge increase in victims and survivors needing housing advice – they cannot afford to pay private rent but there is a limit on the number of houses available in social housing. Anecdotally, we are seeing more women being forced to endure violent relationships because the option of leaving is severely limited, and there are other women sofa surfing with their kids just to stay safe.”
Aurora will always find ways to help women who need us, but as more and more victims are needing our services, resources become increasingly restricted. This is one of the many reasons why government, trust and corporate funding is life changing for charities and the people that they support.
2. Oversubscribed and underfunded frontline services.
We are also seeing more people come to us for advice on frontline services that sit outside of our direct remit, meaning that the nature of many of our service line calls has changed.
Shonagh explained, “We think this is due to oversubscribed and underfunded services. More people are now calling us to find out what support options are available to them, because the support that would previously have been accessible elsewhere is either not open to them or not as responsive as they need, because all services are struggling with the same issues.”
“Consequently, our helpline is now more needed than ever, and we’ve had to adjust our training to ensure that all staff are able to respond to the varying needs of callers. It’s of the utmost importance that someone reaching out for help experiences support from us and feels better informed than when they first called us.”
3. Higher staff turnover.
The charity sector has always had its struggles with regards staff turnover. While people come into the third sector for all of the right reasons, ultimately the sector cannot match wages and, sometimes, progression opportunities that their corporate counterparts can. In 2022, a survey put not-for-profit as the top sector for staff moves and this is certainly something we’ve seen more of recently.
The cost-of-living crisis spans across many demographics, and we have seen this first-hand within our charity. One of our team has had to sell her home due to the mortgage being too high and she has moved into a rental property that is much smaller. Another staff member has told us how she is struggling with everyday food bills and utilities.
She shared: “I probably wouldn’t be able to do this job if I didn’t have a partner earning a good wage and I wouldn’t have a choice but to look at private sector jobs to earn more, or even do a job that I didn’t want to do or enjoy!”
Unfortunately, not everyone is in the same position, with many charity workers having no choice but to move into the private sector. It’s important for us to support our staff in any way we can, so we give the women who work at Aurora a £50 supermarket voucher every few months, as well as buying the team lunch on a Wednesday.
One staff member said: “I want to say that the gift vouchers and Wednesday lunches do make a massive difference. I know that for some of the team, that has meant that they don’t need to struggle to do a food shop, so it really does go a long way.”
4. Less fundraising opportunities.
It won’t come as a surprise that, as a sector, fundraising itself has been heavily impacted by the cost-of-living crisis. According to BritainThinks, just under a quarter of the public have cancelled or reduced their charitable donations in order to help reduce the burden on their monthly finances. An additional 39% of these people said that they intended to reduce their charitable donations in the future in order.
We have reduced our organisational fundraising events because we already know how hard it is for people to make ends meet. Although we commit to at least one fundraiser a year, and we always get so much support from the community when we do, we are really conscious of not adding any burden to our supporters, many of whom are victims and survivors themselves.
5. New difficulties accessing people we need to support.
Our mission at Aurora is to offer safety, support, advocacy, and empowerment to survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking. No matter what our own circumstances at the charity, this will always be our driving force. However, we are now seeing different barriers stopping the people who need us from being able to reach out.
“Take up for our forces group work has been low and a lot of this is to do with childcare: people simply can’t afford to send their children to a childminder or get a babysitter to cover the sessions. This means we’re only really seeing women with school aged children and over, which, in turn, makes those clients with younger children experiencing domestic abuse more isolated, at an already isolating time.” said Lynne Thompson, Aurora New Dawn Army Advocate.
This means that victims are not receiving the help they need because they do not have the means to join sessions. This is a worrying issue that we are working to find extra funding to offer a creche for women who want to access our group work, but as stated funding is already limited and we are in a position of knowing that we aren’t as accessible in our services as we should be or want to be.
What will happen next for charities during the cost of living crisis?
It’s difficult to know what the future landscape looks like for the third sector in the midst of the cost of living crisis. Shonagh Dillon says: “Every feminist led organisation working in this sector know that we are lucky to continue the legacy handed down to us from our second wave sisters . They founded the UKs male violence against women movement on a budget of precisely nothing, with no state support, and those women are truly an inspiration to us now. Our services are run by and for women, and the vast majority of the Aurora staff team have been subjected to men’s violence themselves – as such we understand the need for charities like ours to keep fighting to stay afloat. We will always keep victim/survivors as our central priority – times are hard, but we have a duty to our fore sisters and those that come after us to continue to do all we can to keep going, and to support as many women as possible.”
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