What would the charity sector look like if charities were government funded essential services?

Charities perform an important role in society, often taking on delivering services that no other organisation can or want to. Many of these services are essential to the people that rely on them, but they are not regarded as ‘essential services’ in the same way as health services, education, policing, waste collection, trading standards, etc. If some of the services provided by voluntary sector organisations became under government control and received government funding, what changes might we see in how those charities operate and how might it affect the voluntary sector as a whole?

Which services are essential?

How would we choose which services provided by charities are essential and which aren’t? Would charities then reshape themselves to ‘follow the money’ and only offer services that are considered essential, potentially leaving a gap in the needs of people where a service isn’t considered essential?

Current government funding

According to the UK Civil Society Almanac, the voluntary sector had a total income of £50bn in 2016/17, with government funding providing £15.8bn of that total. The government funding accessed by charities is often in the form contracts to deliver services, via a competitive tendering process which can put charities in conflict with other charities and finding themselves competing with commercial organisations with far greater resources. Competitive tendering for contracts can look like it provides best value for money, but risks resulting in the lowest price and lowest quality of service winning the contract. If more funds were provided to charities more directly, with the charity having more responsibility in choosing how those funds are used to meet needs, how would this change the tendering process? How would could charities show that they are delivering high quality services?


What controls would have to be in place to prevent government funded charities from being subject to undue influence by government policies in what funds they access and services they deliver?

Is there a risk of creating a two-tier charity sector with those charities that deliver services that are considered essential and those that aren’t?

If current essential services, such as the NHS are unfunded, how could the government afford to fund additional essential services provided by charities?


This question arises out of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown as charities lose significant proportion of their income, essential services, especially health, are under considerable pressure, and people are more in need of the services provided by charities and other voluntary sector organisations.

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