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Research charities underwhelmed by £750m bailout

Image: David Ridley, via Shutterstock

Alzheimer’s Society describes government money as a ‘drop in the ocean’

A £750 million government package to support charities during the coronavirus crisis is a “drop in the ocean” given that the sector stands to lose billions, the head of a major research charity has said.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the funding at the government’s daily press conference on 8 April, telling journalists it would “ensure our key charities can continue to deliver the services that millions of people up and down the country rely on”.

The funding pot includes money direct from government departments, and through a grant to the National Lottery Community Fund.

The government has already promised to defer charities’ VAT bills and the paying of business rates for their shops next year, as well as furloughing staff where possible by paying 80 per cent of their wages.

But some charities have been left underwhelmed by the latest announcement.

Katie Lee, chief executive officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, which invests £10m a year into dementia research, said that while it was “good to see the government acknowledge the critical role charities play in providing essential services”, the funding was a “drop in the ocean”.

“In reality it will provide some relief, to some charities, while the sector stands to lose £4bn of funding for their vital services in the next 12 weeks,” she added.

Fiona Carragher, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer’s Society told Research Professional News that £750m “is simply not enough”.

“There is an immediate risk to £2.6 million of our high quality of research projects and that figure will only grow as the crisis continues,” she said.

“This pandemic has put the entire world on pause and this is having a profound impact on dementia research—locking researchers out of the lab, halting clinical studies and deploying clinical staff back to the frontline where they are most needed,” she added.

“There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK with this set to rise to 1 million by 2025, and we owe it to them to continue our research, and to one day find a cure.”

Cancer Research UK recently announced a cut of £44m of current research funding after reporting a 25 per cent drop in its income this year.

Michelle Mitchell, the charity’s chief executive, said the package was a “significant first step which will help many charities continue their vital work through these challenging times”.

“But this pandemic is having a profound impact on our life-saving work, so we are joining other charities in asking government to review the level of this support as the crisis continues.”

Nevertheless, she added, “despite these significant challenges, charities of all sizes have leapt to support the country during the Covid-19 pandemic”, with Cancer Research UK laboratories offering equipment and expertise to help with testing.

Many of the charity’s clinical experts have returned to the NHS frontline.

“We’re also working closely with health systems and other cancer charities to provide the best support and advice to cancer patients,” she continued. “We are still committed to saving lives from cancer. But now more than ever we need sufficient support from government.”

Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation told Research Professional News: “Our shops have closed, and scores of fundraising events have been cancelled. This means as a charity we are now losing around £10m each month during the Covid-19 pandemic—a severe threat to our mission to fund life-saving research.”

“The support charities give to medical research must not be overlooked in a crisis that ultimately research is critical in solving,” she said. “The government’s package of support for charities is an important first step in mitigating the some of the most extreme effects of the crisis on the sector.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said the extra funding announced by the chancellor “is geared only to providing short term relief” and that “the country really needs to avoid waking up in one or two years’ time to find many of the country’s best loved charities have simply had to fold”.