"Charity deserts" at the VSSN/NCVO Conference 2011

Sep 12, 2011 | Category: CGAP News

Maps of the distribution of registered charities have occasionally led to suggestions that there are "charity deserts" but what does the evidence suggest? Work by John Mohan and Rose Lindsey in Spoke 2 of CGAP is investigating this question. In a very literal sense there are very few parts of the country in which no charities are registered, but there are sharp variations between places in the numbers and types of charitable organisations. For example, if we take the areas in which there are fewest registered charities, 30% of the population of England live in areas where there are, on average, less than half the national ratio of charities to population. What does this mean in practice? Is it a reliable and valid index of the capacity of charities? Clearly we need to improve on it. We can do this in several ways. We are looking at using information in the charities Areas of Benefit (part of their governing documents) and their area of operation (a field in their return to the Charity Commission) to reapportion charitable expenditures between areas. We can get more information about the scale at which charities work from the National Survey of Third Sector Organisations (NSTSO). This shows that around 45000 charities in England say they operate at the neighbourhood scale, but there are far fewer of them in the most deprived areas of the country. There are several other ways in which we might compare the distribution of charitable resources between places, which will be the subject of further quantitative work; contact John Mohan for details.

This quantitative research is complemented by qualitative investigations in contrasting areas of a local authority in southern England, involving around 50 interviews with charities and other local stakeholders, as well as gathering of data from charity annual reports. The work is being carried out by Rose Lindsey. The aim is to track flows of charitable funds into and out of areas in contrasting socioeconomic circumstances. Case studies are being undertaken in two areas which, though only a few miles apart within the same local authority, are in very different positions in socioeconomic terms, one being among the 20% most deprived areas in the country and the other being in the 20% most prosperous. There are important contrasts in terms of the mix of charities, their resource base (in particular the degree of dependence on statutory funding and the reliance on professional staffing drawn from outside the community), the extent to which they can draw on support from neighbouring areas, and the availability of the right quantity and quality of voluntary resources in a context of substantial reductions in public funds. This research raises questions about the extent to which all communities will be in a position to benefit from policies introduced under the banner of the “big society”.

Rose Lindsey presented a paper based on initial findings from this work at the recent VSSN/NCVO conference.

Exploring Local Hotspots and Deserts: Investigating the local distribution of charitable resources (pdf)

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