Joint Forum Voluntary and Community Sector Representatives hold Panel meeting & agree Position Statement on the Cost-of-Living Crisis

26 Sep 2022 Kathy Maguire    Last updated: 28 Sep 2022

Earlier this month, the Joint Forums Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) Panel held their most recent VCS Panel meeting and had a full agenda to consider, including agreement of a VCS Panel Position Statement on the current Cost of Living Crisis.

Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) representatives of the Joint Forum met collectively on the 6th September 2022 as a Voluntary and Community Sector Panel to plan and update in advance of the next Government and Voluntary & Community Sector Joint Forum meeting. Via this meeting panel members discussed and agreed issues to be raised at the next full Joint Forum meeting with Government due to be held on the 27 September 2022.

At this meeting, held at NICVA and chaired by Anne-Marie McClure, Start 360, in her last meeting as VCS Panel Chair, the panel had a full agenda to consider.

Joint Forum Task and Finish Groups

As part of the panel meeting agenda, the VCS Chairs of the current thematic Task and Finish Groups, established via the Joint Forum, gave an update on the current work and progress of these groups. These cross sectoral groups made up of representatives from across the VCS and public sector membership of the Joint Forum are driving forward priority issues of interest identified via the Joint Forums current work plan.

The Communication and Engagement Subgroup is taking forward a range of agreed communication and engagement deliverables in support of the overall Joint Forum agenda and work plan, including ensuring the work of the Joint Forum is effectively communicated.

The Funding Relationship between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector Task and Finish Group, is currently undertaking preparatory work on the development of recommendations to inform creation of a set Fair Funding Principles that will address key issues in relation to government funding practices and approaches to the VCSE sector.

Update on Panel Membership and Formal Note of Thanks to Outgoing VCS Panel Chair 

The panel discussed recent changes to sector representation on the Panel. Rachel Powell, formerly WRDA has recently stepped down as a panel member and the panel wished to note their thanks to Rachel for her contribution to the work of the Panel and the Joint Forum.

As Secretariat NICVA, gave an update on the current recruitment process being taken forward for new/replacement VCS panel members. The deadline for sector nominations is now closed and confirmation of new appointments is expected by end October 22.

In addition, preparations for Anne-Marie stepping down in her current role as VCS Panel Member & Chair at the end of September, due to her retirement, where further discussed and agreed by the panel.

Denise Hayward, Volunteer Now was confirmed as new VCS Panel Chair and Bob Stronge, Advice NI  as the new Deputy Chair (replacing Denise, who is currently undertaking this role)

Panel members wished to place on record a sincere note of thanks and acknowledgment to Anne-Marie for her significant contribution to the work of both the VCS Panel and the wider Joint Forum, noting the vision, leadership and drive she has brought to her role as Chair and to the work of the VCS panel and the Joint Forum.

Discussion on the Cost-of-Living Crisis and Agreement of a Position Statement

The panel discussed the growing cost of living emergency and in particular its impacts on not only the individuals and communities they serve but directly on sector organisations themselves.  This includes VCS organisations capacity to respond due to the scale of the emergency and the unsustainable financial pressures of ever rising fuel and energy costs, which may force some organisations to close or reduce vital services, at a time when the sectors contribution is  never more needed or in demand.

In response to the crisis, the Panel discussed and agreed proposals for a Position Statement which would set out their calls to Government in regard to the emergency .

In summary, the Panel are calling for the following :

1)           Restoration of the NI Executive

The immediate restoration of the NI Executive to agree a multi-year budget and agree and deliver the policy solutions needed, including the implementation of targeted emergency measures. Political inaction in the face of such a crisis is simply not acceptable. The Northern Ireland Executive has significant policy-making powers, particularly regarding social security, that could be deployed to shield those most acutely at risk due to the cost-of-living crisis.

2)           Dedicated Financial Support for the Voluntary and Community Sector

Urgent support from Government, is needed for the sector that is substantial enough to meet the scale of the challenge. We need an immediate inflationary/cost of living uplift to all public sector contracts, and a rate hiatus for community owned and managed assets without delay.  Initiatives are needed to look at how community and voluntary sector organisations can address growing fuel and energy costs in the longer term, including investment in environmental and energy saving measures.

3)           Targeted Support for Individuals and Families most acutely at risk

We support the urgent calls across civic society of the need for targeted supports for low-income individuals and households, including those in receipt of benefits. This includes the uprating of benefits in line with inflation/cost of living increases, a pause on reductions from Universal Credit for prior overpayments / sanctions, and the removal of the benefit cap and two-child limit.

Additional investment in energy efficiency measures and initiatives is also needed so that those on low incomes can affordably heat and power their homes both now and in the future.

It was agreed that the Panel would share this statement publicly and with Public Sector membership of the Joint Forum, in a committed effort to draw further attention to this crisis and for the need for dedicated action and support by Government, both nationally and locally.

A copy of the panels position statement is attached within this article.

For all queries (including press) regarding this statement please contact: Charlie Fisher, DTNI/JF VCS Panel Representative: Mobile: 07595979642 Tel: 028 90311132's picture
by Kathy Maguire

Policy Development Officer

[email protected]

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