The coalition government has slashed funding for small community groups, which all too often are seen as the “nice to have” part of our society. They are praised and thanked, but their true social and economic contribution is overlooked. Yet they are the glue holding our society together. From the informal support group for a new mother, who every week has a couple of hours to ask the questions she daren’t ask her health worker; to the group supporting victims of crime.
Research published today by the Community Development Foundation shows the vital contribution these groups are making to society and how funders can best support them. Tailor Made: How community groups improve people’s lives finds that without small amounts of funding, much of this activity would never get off the ground and the value of the services these groups provide, the volunteers they attract and their impact on communities would be lost. For example, a study by the London School of Economics found that a typical befriending service would cost about £80 per person and produce £300 worth of value per person per year when taking into account the reduced need for treatment and improved quality of life as a result of better mental health.
There are an estimated one million community groups, often with an income of less than £2,000 a year. They trade on trust, build their activities from first-hand experiences and use local knowledge and connections.
But these groups need advice, support and, most importantly, small amounts of funding to get going. It is a folly to think that communities will not need some small grant funding to get them started. Every type of new community finance model starts with a small investment.
Alongside a steady decline in funded activity, there has been an increased focus on making financial savings rather than improving outcomes for communities. Yet community-focused approaches tackle the root causes of costly social issues, which, in turn, save vital pennies to the public purse.
David Cameron says his party is the “the real party of compassion and social justice”, rewarding people who build communities. Ed Miliband is going hard-line on Labour’s commitment to the NHS, stating that “a hospital is only as good as the services in the community”.
I’m writing this week to all party leaders, calling on them to maintain funding to small community groups in their upcoming manifestos. All parties should pledge a small sum to fund community groups in the next parliament in order to prevent a huge cost to our society’s future.
This article was first published in the Guardian