Community and austerity

The community and voluntary sector looks after the disadvantaged and vulnerable. But is the sector still able to deliver after years of austerity? And what is the effect on those holding services together at the frontline?


The impact on service users

UNISON members know the impact of austerity on the services they deliver and on themselves.

Across the board, only 40% of respondents to a recent UNISON survey said they were able to provide service users with all the help they need.

Services for vulnerable children are under pressure, with facilities and resources dwindling.

  • 15% of UNISON members working with vulnerable children do not have enough time to monitor children and follow up concerns of neglect or abuse.
  • 72% fear some may be slipping through the safety net. Disabled people are suffering both from welfare changes and from cuts to services.
  • 67% of disability workers say their clients are being left at risk because their care package has been reduced.
  • 59% report that service users are becoming more socially isolated. 67% of these are concerned that this results in self-harm and depression.

Austerity has reduced housebuilding, but the biggest challenges have been due to welfare benefit changes. Vulnerable social housing tenants face increased problems.

  • 73% of housing workers say more tenants are falling behind with their rent. 35% said the top reason was the bedroom tax.
  • 50% have seen an increase in tenants being evicted or forced to move because of financial pressures.

Advocacy and campaigning organisations can no longer provide the support they used to.

  • 80% of advocacy workers say it is getting harder for clients to get representation and advocacy.
  • 77% identified specific groups who are losing out – the main ones being disabled, elderly and Black people.

Workers in children’s charities feel that cuts are already jeopardising young people’s safety. Anna Bawden, The Guardian

The impact on the workforce

Low pay is endemic in the community and voluntary sector. Pay is going down, and the cost of living is going up

Workers in the sector are facing rising levels of personal debt and long-term financial hardship, with many taking second, third or even fourth jobs, and zero-hour contracts are spreading.

Managers are increasingly operating by dictat, and staff are not having their voice heard.

Dedicated community and voluntary sector workers are used to ‘going the extra mile’ but austerity has pushed this to the extreme. Morale is low, stress is high, and staff are suffering.

Our focus is clearly on defending the essential services on which our communities rely, many of which are provided by housing associations, charities, and not-for-profit organisations. Workers, UNISON members, are the lynchpin of these services.
Dave Prentis, General secretary UNISON