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Rishi Sunak’s offer to charities leaves him exposed on three fronts

The Chancellor's £750m package for charities may cause him problems later down the line.

By Stephen Bush

Rishi Sunak has announced £750m of funding for charities struggling with the consequences of the coronavirus lockdown: but the sum looks to be far short of the required amount.

Charities are facing a shortfall of more than £4bn over the next quarter – Sunak has announced just £750m to patch the hole. Equally significantly, he has done nothing for the numerous organisations that are registered as charities but do not do traditional charitable work, such as social enterprises, private schools and many community media organisations. As a result, many of those bodies are not eligible for much of the existing support that has already been unveiled.

Looking at the detail, what Sunak has actually done is bail out the parts of the third sector that are “NHS-adjacent”: the providers of hospice services, cancer nurses, and so on, whose collapse would put extra pressure on a health service fighting an all-consuming battle against Covid-19. It won’t do anything for the vast majority of charitable organisations.

It also won’t help organisations registered as charities but that are not, in the terms we would recognise, “charities” as such. Many community media organisations fall under this category. I’ve explained some of the adverse consequences of letting those bodies fail in more detail here, but there is already a lever the government could and should be pulling for those outlets anyway: its advertising budget, which needs to focus on hard-to-reach pockets of society, would both save lives and community media organisations if targeted correctly.

But there is another specific problem that would worry me were I a Conservative chancellor: small and medium-sized private schools. These are organisations without endowments or particularly famous alumni who are already being competed out of existence by ever-improving state schools. Most are registered charities and it appears by this announcement that they have been left to go to the wall. These organisations are not going to cause a great outbreak of mourning in the country should they go bust, but they might cause difficulties within the Tory party.

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So today’s announcement has three risks to the government: it doesn’t provide very much to traditional charities, which risks angering voters; it doesn’t provide anything to social enterprises and other charitable organisations, which may compromise the fight against Covid-19; and it doesn’t provide anything to private schools, which may cause ructions within the party.

But Sunak was able to glide through a press conference in which he faced questions largely about the government’s chain of command and a timeline for ending lockdown: hypotheticals he dealt with fairly easily. It may be that by surviving the press conference he has survived the moment of maximum danger for these proposals: but it may also be that the shortcomings in the £750m package come back to haunt him.

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