Policy and Public Affairs Team Quarterly Update (January – March 2023)
Encouraging support for the role of the sector and wider civil society
NICVA’s Head of Policy & Public Affairs Geoff Nuttall has been ensuring a Northern Ireland sector perspective was reflected in a major new independent report on the role of the sector and wider UK civil society. The ‘Law Family Commission on Civil Society’ report, on whose Technical Advisory Panel Geoff has been sitting, was launched on 26th January with guest speakers including entrepreneur and businesswoman Deborah Meaden and Paralympian and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. The report’s recommendations include calls for stronger relationships between the sector, policymakers and business; timely, accessible data and robust evidence about the sector; and improving the scale, distribution and impact of sector funding.
Highlighting the impact of the cost of living on sector organisations and service users
The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector continues to face into the ongoing Cost-of-Living crisis with many sector organisations experiencing incredible challenges in their daily operations.
In January, Geoff met Graham Stuart MP, UK Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero along with a delegation of NI organisations to discuss the support cost of living energy cost support schemes being provided by UK government. Geoff strongly highlighted the knock-on effects for sector organisations of high energy bills on their ability to help those in most need through the current cost of living crisis, and the vital need for continued support for sector organisations after March when the current energy bills discount scheme ends as well as longer-term support, including measures to reduce energy costs in the long-term through efficiency measures and moving to greener and more secure energy sources. BEIS has committed to continuing dialogue with the sector on this issue.
In February, the PPA team issued the second NICVA members’ Cost of Living Survey to help us understand and represent the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis on sector organisations and their users to government. This survey followed up a previous cost of living members survey in Aug/Sep 2022, this time gathering further information on how effective the range of government cost of living and energy support schemes have been and what the impact may be if and when they end. The survey was completed by heads of VCSE sector member organisations (n=1,192) in Northern Ireland. A total of n=233 participants responded to the survey. Results of the survey will be released online in due course.
Toward the end of this quarter, NICVA’s ‘Cost of Living Crisis - Tough Times, Smart Solutions’ series of events began. NICVA will be hosting 6 in person events throughout Northern Ireland in partnership with local networks to hear how we can best support our members and the wider sector during the Cost-of-Living Crisis.We kicked of this series with our first event in NICVA on 27th March where we heard personal stories from a number of sector organisations, shared details of information and support, and gained a fuller understanding of the practical solutions needed to keep vital VCSE services running. Information of future events in this series can be found here.
Helping the Sector access energy bill support Through contact with the UK Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Team also provided an opportunity in February for sector organisations to be put forward to trial a new non-domestic energy bill support scheme and get their payment early.
Highlighting Digital Poverty
Together, with sector representatives from Scotland and Wales, NICVA’s Policy and Public Affairs Team provided insights into digital poverty across the UK’s devolved nations and discussed how best we could tackle it. Hosted by Digital Poverty Alliance, the Webinar focused on issues causing digital poverty in Northern Ireland, what the Voluntary and Community Sector need to help make a difference, and how we can best share practices, knowledge and understanding to tackle digital poverty across all parts of the UK. The webinar can be viewed here.
Addressing the stigma and inequalities suffered by those with severe mental illnesses
NICVA is partnering with Ulster University, and a number of sector organisations working on mental health issues in a project aimed at understanding and encouraging action to address the inequalities suffered by those with sever mental illness. At the ‘CHOICE’ project launch on 23 March at Clifton House in Belfast, the researchers presented findings on the wider knock-on impacts of severe mental health on the physical health and life chances of sufferers, discussion by a range of partners and ‘experts by experience’ to deepen understanding of how to address these inequalities. NICVA is supporting the project by helping partners to connect with relevant sector organisations and by communicating its findings.
Giving Recognition to Community-based Good Relations Work
Geoff has been supporting the Community Relations Council on the judging panel for the 2023 Good Relations Awards Community Champion Awards. At the awards ceremony on 7 March, Geoff presented the first prize in the Community Champion category to Nicole Sloan for her work in East Belfast. All of the finalists were nominated by their local community, Nicole’s nomination highlighting how she “has tirelessly given her time freely to the community and championed the cause of good relations over the past 3 years….. making a positive impact, changing attitudes and providing invaluable support to many. She is a driver of change and steadfast in her aim to create a more inclusive, diverse and respectful society for the future.”
Making Sure NI Civil Society’s Views on the Post-Brexit Arrangements is Heard
Geoff has been representing the sector on the UK/EU Post-Brexit Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) established post-Brexit to ensure sector and civil society views on the post-Brexit arrangements. At its latest meeting on the 1st February, Geoff highlighted the sector’s concerns – expressed in recent NICVA surveys and elsewhere - about the knock-on impacts of disagreements over the NI/Ireland Protocol resulting in no NI government, no proper budgeting and no policy decision-making with huge implications for the work of the sector and those it serves.
Highlighting Post Brexit Impacts and Advocating for Solutions
The Team continued to work alongside sector organisations and other representative groups to highlight the impact of the loss of ESF funds post March 2023, the significant cliff edge in terms of funding and support this creates and continued to lobby across both UK Government and local NI Government departments as to urgent need for coordinated action, adequate funding solutions and stratgeic planning to address this looming crisis.
The Team also contributed to research being carried out by Newcastle University on behalf of the Equality Commission NI to examine the impacts of Brexit on girls and women in NI.
Windsor Framework briefing event
Following recent engagement with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), the Team organised a special NIO briefing and Q&A session on the Windsor Framework on the 14th March. The meeting provided an opportunity for the sector to hear directly from senior offcials from the NIO about the new framework and to pose questions about to senior officials who had been involved in the drafting and negotiations on it. You can read more here .
Supporting Sector Representation in the Health Transformation Process
Following direct engagement with key Department of Health Officials responsible for the development of the new Northern Ireland Integrated Health System (ICS), NICVA has provided sector representation through the NICVA Executive Committee on the overseeing ICS Regional Working Group. Further discussions are to follow on ensuring local sector representation on the pilot regional (Health Trust level) Integrated Care Partnerships being established under the new system.
Individual Giving Survey 2023
The Individual Giving Survey 2023 was commissioned by NICVA in December 2022 and distributed in January 2023. Data collection was undertaken using a fully representative sample (n=1,000) of the Northern Ireland adult (16+) population in terms of age, sex, socio-economic grouping and area. This survey allows NICVA to gather data from members of the public in Northern Ireland to map their patterns of donating to charity. Results will be released online in due course.
Future Issues 2023
In July 2022 and February 2023, NICVA undertook two Cost of Living (COL) Surveys which were disseminated to all head of VCSE Sector organisations in Northern Ireland. Future Issues 2023 will report the findings from the most recent Cost of Living Survey February 2023, and where possible comparisons will be made with the Cost-of-Living Survey July 2022. Results will be released online in due course.
Supporting the work of the Government and Voluntary Sector Joint Forum
During this period, the Team continued to support the work of the Joint Government and Voluntary Sector Forum (Joint Forum) and its Voluntary and Community Sector Panel (VCS Panel). This included coordinating meetings of the Joint Forum Joint Chairs and planning meetings with Task and Finish Groups Chairs and DfC Secretariat. We also coordinated a meeting of the Voluntary and Community Sector Panel during this quarter and in early March facilitated a workshop for VCS Panel members to explore and agree how can best maximise the panels contribution and outputs for the Joint Forum during the remainder of this current term.
During this period we also supported the induction of four new Voluntary and Community Sector Panel representatives to the VCS Panel/Joint Forum. These are Aoife Mallon, Women’s Resource and Development Agency, Chris Eisenstadt, BookTrust, Róisín Wood Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and Noeleen Lynch, Community Transport Association UK.
As per our last PPA update, in line with the Joint Forums work plan for this term, we also continue to support the work of a number of thematic Task and Finish Groups including providing Secretariat to a cross sectoral group examining the Funding Relationship between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector, with aim of agreeing a set of Fair Funding principles and recommendations.
The next full Joint Forum meeting is to be held in June 2023 and in advance of this, efforts to support the ongoing work of the VCS Panel and the Task and Finish Groups will continue apace.
Providing Sector Information and Support
The Team continued to work to keep sector organisations up to date with the latest news and information on a diverse range of topical issues including EU replacement funding, Energy Support Schemes and the Spring Budget.
We also continued to attend and contribute to the work of a range of key sector coalitions and working groups including the Equality Coalition and the Anti-Poverty Strategy Design Group
The Team is currently developing plans for an event in May/June to help support the sector in making energy efficiency improvements and changing its energy sources to more secure, lower cost, and greener sources. This will help protect the sector against future energy price shocks, while protecting the climate for this and future generations.
The Team is also planning an event in the same period to showcase the valuable contribution which the sector makes to health, social care, and well-being including health and social care service delivery; identifying local community needs and promoting health and well-being; and early intervention to prevent poor health and well-being outcomes. This event forms part of our ongoing ‘Value of the Sector’ work designed to educate the public, media, and government about the vital contribution the sector makes to our society and the essential nature of our work, underlining the need for these services to be factored into government budgeting and into Programme for Government Outcome delivery.
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