Belfast Telegraph

How a little charity can go a long way in a crisis

Maintaining services while controlling spending is now crucial to the Executive. Seamus McAleavey outlines ways in which the voluntary sector here can help

Back in August I said the scale of cuts facing us, in real terms, would be around £2bn. The announcement from Westminster confirmed our worst fears. Now, more than ever before, it is vital that the Executive works together to make the best of a bad situation.

But it's not all doom and gloom; I do see some signs that make me optimistic. The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) met twice last month with Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness and we were encouraged to hear that they plan to have an agreed Budget.

While arguing the case with the Treasury on a number of outstanding issues around enterprise zones, they realise that, to avoid more pain, departments and agencies need to have their budgets settled as early as possible.

They were also clear that they have greater ambition than simply managing the cuts. They want to do new things and make a difference in the longer term.

Leadership counts and the Executive will have to lead from the front. Sinn Fein and the DUP have both tabled documents for discussion on income generation and expenditure. What the public hopes for is that they will all agree the best way forward.

We are now looking to our politicians to do the right thing and show strong leadership that rises above party politics. However, the time for talking is short and the Executive should take agreed action to ensure we move forward decisively rather than drifting into an even worse situation due to an inability to reach consensus.

As I've said before, we must seek out effective and efficient ways of doing things.

Below are a number of innovative ways of delivering the services people, families and communities need, while retaining a strong grip on spending. These are only a small percentage of what can be done. NICVA stands ready to work with government to uncover more smart solutions in tough times.

1. Social services, schools and other agencies refer families to Home-Start for a variety of reasons, including child-protection, mental health, disabilities, drug and alcohol misuse, multiple births, deprivation and hardship and domestic violence.

Home-Start's team of 900 dedicated volunteers work with more than 3,000 children each year. These volunteers give more than £2m-worth of work to the Northern Ireland economy each year.

It costs £1,134 to provide Home-Start support to a family for a year and Home-Start can support 40 children living at home for the cost of taking one child into care.

2. Shepherds View Young Parents Project is a partnership between a voluntary housing association and the Western Health and Social Services Trust.

It was set up to provide young parents with accommodation and to develop the skills they need to give their children the best possible start in life.

Since opening in 2002, Shepherds View has provided a home for 152 mothers, 30 fathers, 20 couples and 202 children. First Housing also runs a project aimed specifically at young fathers aged 15-25.

3. In 1991, a group of concerned carers of disabled people in the Dungiven area came together along with local businessmen to form the committee of Glenshane Care Association.

The association seeks to help those who are able to acquire new skills which may help them find employment. For those unable to work, the aim is to improve quality of life through making the experience as enjoyable and productive as possible.

4. Belfast Central Mission's LITE 60+ project enables vulnerable older people to continue to live independently in their own homes. LITE 60+ costs approximately £50 per service-user weekly, compared to £430 for residential care and £570 for nursing care. Postponing entry into residential care by just one year, through adapting people's homes, saves £28,080 per person.

5. Advice NI co-ordinates a network of 80 advice centres across Northern Ireland. In 2008/2009, the centres answered 227,802 enquiries from 107,703 clients. This resulted in £30m identified for people over the course of the year.

One of Advice NI's members is the North Belfast Advice Alliance (NBAA), a network of six advice centres established in 2003 to provide a free, comprehensive, high-quality advice service.

One of the services offered by NBAA is debt and money management and its work includes helping clients to plan their finances, negotiate with creditors and declare bankruptcy. Last year NBAP dealt with 1,131 cases and negotiated more than £3m in debt.

6. In 2009/10, Clanmil Housing built 248 new homes. These new homes, together with existing stock, meant that Clanmil was able to provide high-quality, affordable homes for 439 families/single people from the social housing waiting-list.

7. Lighthouse (previously known as PIPS: Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self Harm) is an organisation committed to providing support services to families who have lost loved-ones and people in crisis.

Lighthouse is a much-needed and valued community resource and deals with more than 500 people in crisis each year as well as dozens of families bereaved through suicide.

8. Last year in Northern Ireland, Gingerbread - the support organisation for lone parents - worked with 145 lone parents to help them gain qualifications and work experience.

Gingerbread works with Marks and Spencer to deliver the Marks and Start employability programme specially designed for lone parents who want to get back to work. In the last year, 100% of participants in the programme have found work.

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