Helping the voluntary sector plug the service gap

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The spending cuts announced last week might have left the health care budget intact, but there were no such promises for social care. The impact of these cuts on health and wellbeing is hard to estimate, but is certain to be wide-reaching.

As public services struggle to meet demand, we can be fairly sure that it will be the voluntary sector that provides the safety net to cover gaps in services.

Many charities, however, struggle to get funding to cover their basic costs, such as rent or wages. Most funding is provided for specific projects or contracts, and although in theory charities could run their services at 'full cost recovery' (where a proportion of all their running costs are included in any project budget) in practice funding is rarely provided on this basis, or commissioners opt to fund smaller units of services. It would be better if more funding was 'unrestricted' – allowing charities to choose how they spend the money.

Funders also place too much emphasis on supporting new work and often do not acknowledge the value of providing long-term funding to support sustainability.

Now in its 14th year, the GSK IMPACT Awards provide unrestricted funding and free training for the winning health charities. Funded by GlaxoSmithKline and run in partnership with The King's Fund, the awards recognise and reward charities that are doing excellent work to improve people's health. The awards are open to registered charities that are at least three years old, working in a health-related field in the UK, with a total annual income between £10,000 and £1.5 million.

Unlike many other grant programmes, charities can choose how to spend the money they receive; previous winners have used it to fund longer opening hours for helplines or to ensure equal access to their services. The awards also recognise charities' important contribution to health care and provide a quality mark, which helps organisations negotiate with commissioners and other funders.

As charities grow and develop, they often face changing demands, so the winners and highly commended receive free training, specifically aimed at health charities. Nominations for the 2011 IMPACT Awards are now open. You can see how previous winners have benefited from winning an award and apply for your charity now.

The voluntary sector has an important role to play in health care, but it relies heavily on goodwill and volunteering to make it viable. The IMPACT Awards are one step towards giving successful health charities the recognition they deserve.


Dr Paul Worthington

Comment date
02 July 2010
The plea for more freedoms as to how the third sector spends its money is heard and understood - I spent some time working for a charity and understand where it's coming from. It does give potential to innovate. However, there have been equal pleas from third and independent sector alike to be treated on a level playing field to NHS providers when it comes to NHS procurement (something which recent DoH procurement guidance and policy announcements have endorsed). This level playing field will almost certainly involve commissioners (of whatever shape and form) in their contracts being more restrictive about how they want their investment to be used. That's perfectly reasonable.

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