Northern Ireland

Open letter from community and voluntary groups urges health minister to restore axed funding scheme or risk ‘direct harm’ to vulnerable people

Core Grant Funding Scheme was cut last year as the Department of Health faced budget pressures

Robin Swann was health minister during the Covid-19 pandemic
Stormont health minister Robin Swann. (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

Vulnerable people across the north face “direct harm” unless a funding scheme for community and voluntary groups is urgently restored, Stormont’s health minister has been warned.

Fifty-one groups have signed an open letter to Robin Swann, calling on him to restore the Department of Health’s Core Grant Funding Scheme, which was axed last year as part of budget-saving measures.

The scheme offered grants of between £5,000 and £200,000 for groups, including the the Women’s Federation in Northern Ireland, the NSPCC, and Carers NI among others.

There was shock among the community and voluntary sector when news of the cuts emerged last year, with many facing a financial limbo and some warning their work will cease unless funding is restored.

Now a regional umbrella group for the children’s sector, Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI) has published an open letter to the health minister expressing “profound concern regarding the harm and uncertainty” caused by the funding withdrawal.

The letter has been signed by 51 groups directly affected by the loss of Core Grant Funding.

“You praised our organisations for demonstrating tremendous resilience and creativity in how we adapted services to continue to help those in need of support throughout the pandemic, and in turn helping to ease the pressure on statutory health and social care services,” the letter states.

They added that in the absense of ministers during the period when Stormont was collapsed by the DUP over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Department of Health “failed to properly value the work that we do”.

The letter warns of the impact of losing professionals and reducing services as groups adapt to the loss of funding.

“This will pile more pressure on statutory services, lead to worse health outcomes, more and more needs not being met, and result in direct hark to our children and young people, disabled people, older people, and other vulnerable groups including victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse.”

In response to receiving the letter, a Department of Health spokesperson told the Irish News: “Unfortunately, the warnings issued by the Minister and Department about budgetary pressures are materialising on multiple fronts. There are sadly many very desirable and commendable projects seeking funding that is simply not available.

“Once the 2024/2025 budget is known, the Minister will be in a position to consider the availability of funding for the Core Grant scheme.”