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Why is the charity sector facing a jobs crisis?

Posted on 22nd March 2022

Evidence is mounting that the charity sector is facing a post-COVID recruitment and retention crisis. The latest reports show job numbers growing and candidate numbers declining, while existing staff quit in droves over burnout and low pay.

CharityJob has analysed 40,000 job ads on its website and found that applicant numbers have fallen from 100 per job in May 2020 to 24 in July 2021—far below the pre-COVID average of 40.

Care charities, particularly care homes, are some of the hardest hit. September 2021 saw care charities and housing associations writing an open letter to the government that warned of “the most acute recruitment and retention crisis that we are aware of historically”, caused by years of underfunding and other factors including post-pandemic exhaustion.

With staff turnover in the sector at 30% and rising, the letter called for the creation of a Workforce Capacity fund to resolve the crisis, for care staff to receive a retention bonus in recognition of their work during COVID, and for care roles to be added to the government’s shortage occupations list, allowing more overseas workers to receive visas.

A survey by consultancy Lark Owl, which polled 45 charities, warns that burnout is a “key theme” throughout the sector, especially in fundraising roles.

Adrian Axtell, National Secretary of charity sector union Community, said staff were “exhausted and there is only so much more they could take”, adding that the October 2021 cut to Universal Credit could ramp up pressure on charities to the point that employees quit en masse.

Charity workers’ own incomes are also part of the problem, according to research by the Living Wage Foundation which reveals that 17% of charity workers earn less than the real living wage (£9.50 per hour, or £10.85 in London)--including 19% of women, 20% of BAME workers and 20% of disabled workers in the sector.

What’s worse, pay could fall further as charities struggle to recoup lost income post-pandemic. The CharityJob report revealed that this is already happening in the international aid sector, where the average annual wage has fallen by £1,500.

All the evidence suggests that the charity sector is facing a growing employment crisis, which can only be resolved by the provision of funding to increase salaries and a strong focus on tackling burnout.