Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across the UK are “constantly threatened” by a lack of core funding, despite the “crucial” services they provide, according to a new report.
The report on the state of the UK DPO sector suggests that its annual income is about £150 million, but that it is still in a “perilous” state, with organisations closing “on a fairly regular basis”.
Despite the lack of core funding faced by many DPOs, they are relied upon by many local authorities, says the report.
But it says that the “tight margins” faced by DPOs and their limited ability to create financial reserves mean many cannot plan ahead and develop their organisations.
Their financial insecurity is “compounded” by the lack of legislation that recognises the value of the DPO sector.
Estimates suggest that as many as one-third of DPOs have closed over the past decade.
The report says the sector demonstrated its “flexibility, agility, and ability to respond to local needs of disabled populations” during the pandemic – as analysed in a previous report – but is still “built on a most fragile, and potentially existentially threatening, financial framework”.
The report, by Dr Theo Blackmore (pictured), from Disability Cornwall, says that DPOs provide “significant social return on investment” for their local communities.
And it says that if DPOs across the UK could be “mobilised” as a group, they would provide the “largest, and most reliably informed” body that central and local government could consult with on disability issues.
The report suggests that the large number of disabled people employed by DPOs could be a “greater achievement” than any recent government employment programme.
As part of a continuing National Lottery-funded project that examines how DPOs worked together through the pandemic, Blackmore has tried to identify as many UK DPOs as he can and has then located them on an online map.
His research found 309 DPOs and showed how some parts of the country appear to be “much better served than others”, with fewer DPOs in the north-east and south-west of England compared with the West Midlands and south-east.
He says this means that disabled people in some parts of the country may not be able to access good quality information and advice, or secure support in crises such as the pandemic, while local authorities may be deprived of expertise from local DPOs that could otherwise help with their service delivery.
Of the 309 DPOs Blackmore found, he randomly selected 100, and analysed the financial status of the 92 of them that were charities.
He found 26 had an income of less than £100,000; 28 had an income of between £100,000 and £500,000; another 18 had an income of between £500,000 and £1 million; and 20 had an annual income of between £1 million and £3 million.
The report says that about half of the DPOs he found provide information and advice services.
An annual grant of just £100,000 for each of these DPOs would cost governments only about £15 million a year, which would be “a very small amount of money for the amount of direct and indirect value it would produce across the country”.
The report says this would “go a long way to providing some stability for a sector that finds itself on a precarious funding knife-edge for much of the time and ensure sustainability of essential life-line services for many disabled people at this critical time”.
It also calls for the government to produce a “legislative framework” that recognises the value of DPOs, which would boost them in a similar way to Labour’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper in 2005, which called for every local authority area to have a user-led organisation modelled on existing centres for independent living by 2010.
Blackmore told Disability News Service that DPOs need “core funding” to provide “security and consistency into the future”, which as a minimum “should be available to organisations with an information provision role”.
He said: “We have seen losses over the years, and as the financial situation gets tougher for everyone, I fully expect the DPO sector to be battered over the coming months and years.”
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