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Charities consider permanent four-day week

Charities that took part in the world’s largest four-day week trial have said they are now considering making the change to working patterns permanent.

The initiative, which was piloted in the UK between June and December 2022 by 61 organisations with around 2,900 workers, published its results today

Around seven charities piloted the scheme, whereby employees received 100% of their pay for 80% of their usual hours and a commitment to deliver 100% of their normal productivity. 

Three charities said the trial was a positive experience and they were considering permanently switching to a four-day working week but some warned that it was not easy to change working habits.

Pilot has been a ‘positive experience’

Debt Justice, Waterwise, Stemettes and Scotland’s International Development Alliance said they were considering switching to a permanent four-day working week after taking part in the trial last year, while another had already confirmed it was extending the offer to staff.

Frances Guy, chief executive officer of Scotland’s International Development Alliance, said: “We was very happy to have had the opportunity to participate in the global four-day week trial, which allowed us to benefit from mentoring and learning from other participating organisations whilst implementing the challenge of improving efficiency by 20%.” 

“The pilot has been a positive experience, with staff reporting improved personal wellbeing and decreased stress. We’re pleased as a member organisation to have demonstrated that it is possible to maintain results on reduced hours and hope our members will benefit from our experience.”

Overall, participants rated their experience an 8.3 out of 10 while business performance and productivity both scored an average of 7.5 on two different scales.

Revenues increased by 35% on average (weighted by organisation size across 24 respondents) when compared with a similar period from previous years. Meanwhile, staff turnover levels declined by 57%.

The results also showed that nine in 10 employees would “definitely want to continue” on a four-day week while over half saw an increase in their ability at work.  On employees’ health and wellbeing, 71% said they had lower burnout levels by the end of the trial, 43% reported better mental health and 46% said they felt less fatigued.  

Where are all the charity mergers?

Despite many predictions that the Covid-19 pandemic may cause a surge in the number of charities deciding to merge, data seems to suggest otherwise. 

Charity sector mergers fell to their lowest level in eight years in 2021-22. However, research is yet to show us what the most recent year has meant for charities. 

This decline could be a sign the charity sector was not as economically impacted as some in the sector thought it might be, possibly due to its successful campaigning for emergency funding from foundations and government. It may be that funding during the pandemic protected the sector from some financial consequences, but a reduction in mergers does not in itself signal good financial health for the sector.

There is also an important question about whether this trend will continue as we enter a cost-of-living crisis. This could have a negative effect on the landscape of small charities. If more merge, the sector may lose valuable local knowledge and expertise.  

Mergers are often lauded for reducing costs and duplication – making better use of resources and focusing on those activities that have the biggest impact.

Sometimes, charities close all together in times of financial distress, or mergers happen as a last resort, and perhaps bypass important considerations. Sometimes the drive is around reducing duplication, and mergers happen when both organisations are in good financial health. 

Nonetheless, it may be that the financial support during the pandemic curbed some of the need for mergers.

The level of financial support available during coronavirus was higher than some people thought it might have been and now we have costs rising, heating, energy, food, and real pressure to do something about staff wages, otherwise you'll lose staff.

Going into the cost-of-living crisis there are huge pressures on charities and there are real challenges recruiting and retaining staff and with costs, so many may not be in a good headspace to pursue thinking about merger.

Learning disabled people call for change in national campaigning plan

Learning disabled people have identified challenges across social care, the world of work, housing and attitudes towards people with a disability as the biggest barriers to leading fulfilled lives. Hft’s Voices for Our Future plan calls for significant change to address these issues.

The plan will be launched officially at an event in Parliament this week, where MPs will have the opportunity to speak to learning disabled people to understand why these issues matter to them, and the change they want to see.

Hft’s campaigning work will include calls for long-term funding in the social care system to ensure that services are sustainable long into the future. Improved housing standards are also vital so that all homes built in the future are accessible and sustainable.

One of the people supported by Hft, Elliot Caswell, from North Shields, knows just how valuable an independent lifestyle can be for people with a learning disability. However, a lack of accessible and inclusive housing has stripped him of his independence.

“After college, I had no choice but to move back home with my parents and brother, even though I’d love to live independently like any other young person.”

Shaun Lee from Hertfordshire is also directly affected by ongoing challenges within the social care sector.

“After college, I had no choice but to move back home with my parents and brother, even though I’d love to live independently like any other young person. Hft supports me with medicine, my money, going out and managing my Parkinson’s, but there are some big challenges in the wider social care sector which are impacting me and other people who have a learning disability.”

A lack of funding in the system means providers are unable to pay staff a fair wage reflecting their skills and the cost of living. One of those who will be joining the network is Erin O’Donnell, who has autism and dyspraxia. Erin was an intern on DFN Project Search, a transition to employment programme, and is now working for Hft as a Supported Employment Advocate.

“Just because we need a little extra support doesn’t mean that we can’t achieve our dreams and aspirations. In order to make this possible, Hft needs your support to enable us to achieve our mission.”

Other sectors want charities to ‘speak up’ in public debates

Public and private sector leaders want charity chief executives to become more vocal in public debates, according to a new report by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK).

Other sector leaders want charity CEOs to “bring their unique perspective to important issues” by speaking out on topical agendas, not just “their core issues”.

Currently charity leaders were underrepresented on current affairs programmes like Question Time, Peston, and the Andrew Marr Show, with just 2% of guests from civil society, compared to 10% from academia and journalism and 4% from business.

The findings are based on a series of conversations between charity CEOs and leaders from the public sector, politics, media, business, and wider civil society held last year under Chatham House rules.

Some talked about charities having good visibility during the pandemic and felt that now, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, there was even greater public appetite for charities to use their platform.

SMK’ also noted that a common criticism of both government and opposition is a lack of vision for change to connect up disparate policy initiatives, and “this leaves a clear gap for civil society to join the dots on different issues in public debate”.

Charity sector leaders are seen as single-issue specialists, whereas business leaders are seen as having a wider voice beyond their core business. When charities speak beyond their immediate issue, it can be perceived as ‘straying into politics’.

A strong theme in conversations was the absence of a strong collective voice for the sector as a whole. 

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