Northern Ireland

Charity slams ‘short-sighted’ decision to maintain 50% funding cut to community and voluntary sector

Core grant funding from the Department of Health was cut in half to £1.8m last year

Health Minister Mike Nesbitt has made clear he is not prepared to countenance ‘catastrophic cuts’
Health Minister Mike Nesbitt has said wants to reform the 'fundamental unfairness' of the funding model for community and voluntary groups in Northern Ireland. (Liam McBurney/PA)

THE head of a children’s charity has slammed a “short-sighted” decision from the health minister to maintain a 50% cut in funding to community and voluntary organisations.

The core grant funding was cut from £3.6m to £1.8m last year, and the minister announced on Tuesday this would remain static.

“The removal of all core grant funding was one of the options set out by my department in response to the 2024/25 budget,” he said.

“The financial pressures across health and social care are certainly severe, but I wanted to retain some level of core grant support this year.

“I fully recognise the important role played by the voluntary and community sector with the delivery of many of our strategic aims - for example, supporting the elderly, providing much needed help to vulnerable children and families and addressing health inequalities.”

Mr Nesbitt said he fully understood the sector wanted to see a greater level of core grant but it was “just not possible”.

Calling it a transitional arrangement, he vowed to address the “fundamental unfairness” in the current system and said that the head of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), Celine McStravick, had recently agreed to help redesign the scheme that would be operational by April next year.

Responding to the announcement, Pauline Leeson, Chief Executive of Children in Need Northern Ireland, said she was “disappointed” by the decision.

“Lots of community groups, charities - and the people they support – will be very concerned about what this means for them, now that their core funding remains significantly reduced,” she said.

“In our view, this decision is short-sighted and indicative of a lack of understanding regarding the work that our organisations do to support and advocate for the most vulnerable people in our society.”

She added that maintaining the 50% cut “threatens the sustainability” of organisations and damaged the wider sector moving forward.

“We do not accept the Department of Health’s position that, due to budgetary pressures, they were unable to restore this small direct investment, which generates a huge return in terms of early intervention, prevention and reducing pressure on statutory health and social care services.”

Warning that reducing core funding would force organisations to divert resources away from supporting people to cover costs, she said some groups may even be forced to close.

“All of this will be hugely damaging to the infrastructure of support provided by the community and voluntary sector. It will add pressure to our statutory health and social care services. Ultimately, it will be our most vulnerable citizens – including children and young people – that suffer.”