The former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and ex-Conservative cabinet ministers have joined calls for an emergency hardship fund to help struggling charities, as hopes grew that the government could unveil such an initiative on Wednesday.
Ministers have been under pressure for weeks to extend the financial help offered to businesses to the third sector, amid reports that even the most established organisations are in dire straits as revenue from charity shops and fundraising events dries up during the coronavirus lockdown.
A letter signed by 26 MPs from across the political spectrum, including the former Conservative cabinet ministers Liam Fox, Esther McVey, Owen Paterson and Damian Green, called on the government to save the small charitable and community sector “from impending collapse” and to rescue the “silent army of life savers”.
“We have seen first hand their significance in the fight against coronavirus. They provide the infrastructure of voluntary effort to support the most vulnerable, facing greater hardship than ever at this time. Isolated households, those with mental health problems, people experiencing domestic violence, child abuse, loneliness and the extra stress of family dysfunction,” the letter said.
“They are delivering medicines and food to the most vulnerable and in the case of adult and children’s hospices, they are also taking the pressure off our hard-pressed NHS and social care sectors, or stemming the flow of people who would otherwise need more intense medical care in hospitals and much, much more.”
With the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, expected to front the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, those working in the voluntary sector are hoping an announcement about charity funding could come this afternoon.
There have been reports that the Treasury was preparing a £100m fund for charities, but this figure has been dismissed as inadequate by many in the sector. By contrast, Barclay’s bank announced on Wednesday that it planned to donate £100m to charities helping fight coronavirus.
Cancer Research UK was among a number of leading cancer charities to warn on Tuesday that a shortfall of donations would set back progress on fighting the disease. The organisation said it could lose up to a quarter of its donated income (around £12m) in the next 12 months, meaning it had drastically to scale back its research plans.
Sue Ryder, one of the UK’s biggest providers of end of life care, has similarly warned it may have to close its hospices after the coronavirus crisis blew a £12m hole in its budget. St John Ambulance, which has deployed hundreds of volunteers around the NHS to help tackle Covid-19, also told MPs last week it would run out of money in the next four months.
The Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who signed the letter, along with the former Labour deputy leader Dame Margaret Beckett, said: “Well over two weeks since the sector and a huge cross-party group made clear the desperate situation facing charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises, many of whom are working on the front line, it’s disappointing and deeply worrying that clear action has not yet been forthcoming.”
He said that government financial help should run into billions of pounds.