This week I have been reflecting on the passing of Margaret Thatcher and one aspect that has struck me is the sense of certainty she offered, whether you agreed with her or not – “the enemy within”, “the Lady’s not for turning”, and “there is no alternative” being just three examples. John Major said she was never stronger than when she had an identifiable enemy or an identifiable cause. She was unwavering, at least in public, of her convictions. She said things with such certainty that it closed off any contradiction: “Every housewife knows that you can’t spend more than your household’s income”. Actually, many do out of necessity. Much of today’s society is based on debt – student loans, mortgages, credit cards, payday loans – and many households are surviving on debt because there just isn’t enough money coming in.
But it is the certainty of Mrs Thatcher’s outlook that won over many people. Certainty offers comfort, and it allows you to plan. But what is certainty in these uncertain times? People are concerned about their jobs, or how to manage their household outgoings when salaries are staying, at best, level while food and fuel costs are increasing.
For charities, certainty is what we need in order to plan. In recent years we have not had that certainty as there has been a squeeze on many of our traditional sources of income. BHT is in a better position that some of our partners since we have some secure income from our property portfolio. But even that now has a lack of certainty as we don’t know what the impact of welfare reforms will be on our rent collection rates.
In more traditional housing associations, our business model lacks certainty as much of our income is dependent on short-term contracts. Some housing associations will avoid ‘short term’ funding such as that offered by the Big Lottery because it is often for ‘just’ three years. But many charities would dearly love to have the level of certainty afforded by a three year contract.
BHT has been very successful in recent years when it comes to Big Lottery funding. This success is due to a large extent to the amazing skills of my colleague Jo Berry who crafts bids like no one I have ever met. She is well assisted by others in the organisation who understand the needs of clients. Our funding is usually for three or four years but in that time we can make a huge difference to the lives of our beneficiaries. For many of our clients, three years is a lifetime that can see them move from chaos and exclusion into housing, education, training and work.
So while we are faced with much uncertainty, we will continue to apply for Big Lottery funding and thereby have services that impact on the lives of local people in ways that large, national programmes, such as the Work Programme, are not likely to achieve.