Boards & Voluntary Agencies branch criticises ‘scattergun’ effect of indiscriminate cuts in community and voluntary sector

21st February 2012

A new report by independent researcher Brian Harvey, has found that the community and voluntary sector has suffered a 35% contraction, which will result in an estimated 11,000 job losses by the end of next year. Mr Harvey estimates that a further 5,500 jobs will go from the sector by the end of 2015. The report was launched on Tuesday by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions at the Mansion House, Dublin.

The first Harvey report, commissioned and published by the Boards and Voluntary Agencies branch of IMPACT in 2010, estimated a loss of 5,000 jobs at the end of that year, which was 10% of the sector’s workforce.

Responding to the report, Philip O’Connor, chair of IMPACT trade union’s, said that the report revealed the hidden consequences of austerity policies, and provided evidence that indiscriminate cuts in the sector had done enormous damage. “The sector has suffered the worst possible effects of a scattergun approach to reduced funding. This report gives us an insight into the effect of that approach on organisations in the sector, as well as the communities they serve. The damage is far-reaching” he said.

The report highlights how organisations in the sector have gone out of their way to avoid service closures and job losses, employing ‘all and any’ alternatives to avoid such measures. In many cases this includes short time working arrangements and significant salary reductions. The report criticises the arbitrary nature in which funding cuts have been applied to the sector, and states that the level of contraction, at 35%, goes beyond what has happened elsewhere in Europe.

The report adds that this has resulted in a devastating effect on the sector’s delivery of frontline services to those most in need. Drug addiction, homeless and services to unemployed people have been particularly affected. Mr O’Connor added “This is happening at a time when these communities are facing an unprecedented increase in demand for these very services.”

The report also notes a considerable decline in the influence of the community and voluntary sector on Government policy. The report states that the economic downturn was used by the state to ‘settle scores’ with some of the more outspoken agencies, a trend first identified by Mr Harvey in the 2010 report.

Mr O’ Connor added, “The policy of restricting and closing down the community sector has been pursued consistently since 2007-8, so the process had already begun before the economic crisis. For example, the cuts in funding imposed in 2008 and the closure, or imposition of severe restrictions on, the advocacy role of the Equality Authority, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and the Combat Poverty Agency. However, the crisis itself is now being used to justify that strategy.”

The report gives a very stark warning on the eventual social effects of a continued reduction in the capacity of the community and voluntary sector, and its role in the complimentary delivery of services alongside the public sector.

Kevin Callinan, IMPACT’s Deputy General Secretary, said “The effect of a shrinking sector will further diminish the state’s ability to provide these services. The community and voluntary sector provides an effective social safety net beneath mainstream public service provision, responding in a unique way to the most vulnerable people and communities in the state.

“The specialist knowledge that the sector has developed over years of practice is a valuable asset, we cannot afford to lose it. There is a cumulative risk that the state will struggle to meet its basic demands, and become what Mr Harvey describes in the report as an ‘incompetent state’. That will become the true cost of the unplanned, uncoordinated approach that has been pursued so far. At the very least, a sector-wide needs analysis would have allowed a more strategic and less damaging approach than arbitrary funding cuts.”

Download the full report HERE