Exclusive: Survey shows scale of financial difficulties facing UK NGOs

A view of the London skyline. Photo by: Ștefan Jurcă / CC BY

LONDON — Nearly half of U.K.-based development NGOs expect to lay off staff members amid economic pressures caused by the pandemic, according to a survey, with 10% of organizations saying they will likely have to make more than one-fifth of their workers redundant.

Forty-six percent of organizations polled by Bond, a network for NGOs, said they had made staff redundant or were likely to because of COVID-19. And despite their bigger budgets, staff at larger organizations were more at risk.

The pandemic disrupted public fundraising activities for NGOs, while the U.K. aid budget was stripped of £2.9 billion this year as the broader economy suffered. Half of all the NGOs surveyed said they had experienced funding cuts as a consequence of the government cuts, according to the survey.

At the same time, NGOs say they are faced with heightened demand for their work, as lower-income countries struggle with the health and economic consequences of the pandemic.

The survey of 93 organizations included 35 small groups worth less than £2 million ($2.6 million), 19 large organizations worth over £20 million, and 39 medium-sized organizations.

UK Job Support Scheme offers little help for NGOs

Despite the government's latest economic measures, experts are predicting "significant" job losses for the charity sector in the coming months.

Ten percent of NGOs said they would likely have to cut more than 20% of staff or had done so already. Another 11% said 10%-20% of staff could be made redundant, while others would make smaller cuts. Just 54% said they would make no staff redundant. The survey did not distinguish between staff members who have already been made redundant and those likely to lose their jobs.

Bigger organizations appear to have been worst affected, with 79% of them having made job cuts or expecting to do so. That compares with 26% of small organizations.

Program and delivery jobs were most likely to be cut, followed by administration and finance and public fundraising. Jobs in the U.K. and in junior positions were most likely to be affected.

As well as the redundancies, many organizations had taken other steps, including making pay cuts and freezing new hiring. Only 16% of respondents had implemented no cost-cutting measures.

Forty-nine percent of respondents, including 63% of large organizations, had furloughed staff onto the U.K. government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which finishes at the end of October. But just 11% of respondents expected to make use of the government’s replacement Job Support Scheme, in which the Treasury will pay some of the wages of employees working fewer hours.

Just over half of NGOs surveyed said they expected they could continue working another two years on current funding projections, with small organizations faring especially poorly — just 29% thought they would survive the next 24 months.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.