Bipolar UK’s recent disclosure that it urgently needs £100,000 in order to keep providing its services is no surprise – and is probably just the tip of a worryingly large iceberg.
Fundraising efforts are now being made to try and ensure that Bipolar UK’s services are protected. It directly supports more than 65,000 individuals every year through self-help groups, a mentoring service, a youth service and a web-based discussion forum. The loss of those services could have a serious impact on the mental wellbeing of the people who use them.
But the charity is by no means the only one facing hard times. In the past couple of years, I’ve heard many times from people working for charities about how funds are getting tighter and tighter. Of course, the same applies to many local authorities and private sector providers as well.
So it is only a matter of time before services start being cut or, worse, the charities affected close. There are only so many “efficiency savings” that can be made. This has already been in evidence in the wider social care sector, with the long-established Social Care Association and Values into Action – to name but two – closing their doors last year.
It is no surprise that charities are facing problems. Many rely on donations from the public and in times of recession charitable donations are one of the discretionary spends that often go by the wayside. Some rely on grants, which are also in short supply. Others are part-funded by local authorities or health trusts, and they sometimes find their funding arrangements aren’t renewed.
The knock-on effects of charities going to the wall could be serious. With local authority services being cut back year-on-year, and private sector providers also suffering, charities often fill that gap. Some people prefer charities because they are more informal than going to traditional NHS or local authority-run services. If we lose a number of charities, many more people with mental health problems may fall through the cracks in services, and not get help until they hit crisis point.
A crucial tenet of the Government’s drive towards personalisation is that service users have choice and control over the services they purchase. However, if the range of services is narrowing because charities are closing, that’s hardly going to improve choice.
There are no easy answers to this. Charities are already becoming more like businesses in the way they tender for local authority services and such like, but that process may have to accelerate. It may also mean that more charities merge. ‘Together we’re stronger’ may be a cliché, but it is also often true.
But everything should be done to ensure these services are kept going, and the focus has to remain on the service user. As Suzanne Hudson, chief executive of Bipolar UK, said when she made the call for funds, the sad irony is that the charity’s funding crisis comes at a time when bipolar disorder is becoming more understood and more individuals and families are seeking Bipolar UK’s support. “2012 was unprecedented in terms of the number of individuals contacting us for help and accessing our services. It is increasingly the case that individuals’ first contact with us is at a time of crisis involving intervention with emergency services.”
Can we afford to lose this kind of support?