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A struggling economy, changing welfare state and a challenged Armed Forces charity sector reduces the depth and breadth of transition support.

The consequences of the pandemic on the UK economy will be felt for decades and raise serious questions about future government funding, including its support of the MOD, the third sector and the labour market. Despite a rise in need, it is expected that services across the board will face a double hit, increased demand, and a decline in available funding. Limited resources will be the elephant in the room, and those who are most vulnerable will suffer.

Certainly, the pandemic’s effect on the Armed Forces charities makes sobering reading. The Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report for 2020 states that members reported that fundraising had reduced by up to 60%, and that 30% of respondents were likely to have exhausted their reserves within 12 months. Worse still,18% of charities predicted that they would have to close or merge within a year. The majority of charities anticipated a reduction in the services that they provide. Most likely, the larger military charities have the resources to tide them through, and will be able to continue to earn income from providing government-backed services. At the other extreme, small organisations will likely also be protected because generally they have a particular role in local communities, and will therefore maintain support. Medium-sized organisations may suffer most.

Some we talked to believed a reshuffle of the charity sector would be beneficial in the long term. Although a recent report from the Directory of Social Change (DSC) suggests the contrary, they argued that the Armed Forces are over-catered for in comparison with others, and that a reorganisation would mean greater efficiency in service; “At the moment, there is an abundance of support for our serving personnel and veteran community. At times, there is too much.” They suggested a proactive approach is needed to make service provision more efficient. “Our challenge is about the delivery model. The question is less about a decline in funding – and more about how we apply the collective system differently. We should consider shared charitable funding, more collaboration, fusing organisations together and integrating services.” One suggestion was to include a risk analysis to identify which charities should remain funded by Government, and which by public donations; another was to instigate a re-evaluation of the Community Interest Company (CIC) as an alternative structure and funding model.

Looking ahead, we heard real appetite for the need for change, and recognition of the challenges that this could present. “It’s not that there isn’t a huge amount of support, but the co-ordination of it is a challenge. Cobseo is there in part to provide that – but there are inevitably politics ‘with a small p’ at play, with experienced leaders from a range of organisations who want to see their charity as the most important. Covid-19 might be the existential threat that makes people operate differently.”

This may mean that the spotlight on those in transition may focus only on those who need it most. “Those that have the most difficulty in transitioning are those that are the least well equipped to find other jobs. If we are short of resources, then the focus should be on those that will struggle the most.” Historically, the challenge has been a lack of data to help identify this cohort. Early Service Leavers are particularly difficult to reach, not least because many do not identify themselves as veterans.

Example Implication: The pandemic acts as a catalyst for fundamental change around the provision of support services for the Armed Forces. Although adjustment is difficult, the result delivers more targeted and effective care.

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