The cost-of-living crisis is affecting individuals we work with, staff and volunteers and our organisations. Inflation running at 9% will quickly engulf people and budgets that are already pushed to the limit. At BVSC we both feel these pressures, but also see how they are being managed within other organisations in Birmingham. We also hear from your staff and volunteers about the impact the crisis is having on them.

We need to be clear that there is a growing reality of voluntary sector staff and volunteers requesting support from the Household Support Fund and presenting at foodbanks. Organisations are also facing a growing recruitment and retention problem, with staff being forced to take better paid work, often leaving the sector, to make ends meet.

Whilst we recognise the challenges, there are things that VCSFE organisations can do:

  1. Pay the Real Living Wage.

    If your staff can’t afford somewhere to sleep, something to eat and to keep the heating on it’s not a job that offers a basic level of human dignity. 
  1. Put up your wages if you can.

    It should go without saying, but good governance of a charity does not involve paying the minimum amount to staff. Our people are our most valuable resource. Employees should not have to fight for every penny and people should be appropriately rewarded for the work they do. Often budgets are out of our control, but where we can, we need to reward staff to ensure that we retain their skills and expertise in the sector. It’s good for them and importantly good for our services users. Employers across the economy are struggling with recruitment. We see this in the requests we get to place job adverts on the BVSC website and the e-bulletin. 
  1. Transfer existing budgets towards salaries.

    For parts of the sector the transfer to digital has enabled a reduction in delivery costs. This may mean we are able to increase salaries. If this is dependent on funders agreement, we normally find that they are understanding that budgets need to flex. Talk to your funders to see if this achievable. 
  1. Design in increased staffing costs - most external funders don’t want you to compete on low wages.

    Whilst funding allocations are varied, and overall price is considered in competitive procurement processes, very few funders will want you to pay low wages. Don’t enter into a race to the bottom. Often the quality of person you attract to a role is the central factor in determining a project’s success or failure. Grant and Trust funders normally only take a view about salaries if they are obviously excessive. Getting into a competition on price is often away of undermining the quality of your offer and making life within your organisation very difficult. 
  1. Do not tie in the rest of your organisational towards a dysfunctional part of the labour market.

    It’s generally acknowledged that pay rates in the social care sector have dropped far behind average salary increases. Parity of pay within organisations is important, but sometimes with voluntary sector organisations parity can mean organising your whole pay structure around the most underfunded part of your organisation. Don’t use underfunded roles as the benchmark for all your front-line staff. Especially when they may be doing very different types of work……. And campaign, campaign, campaign for better pay in social care - the people who look after us deserve to be better looked after!   
  1. Improve employment terms and conditions.

    Think about what else you can offer: Increased flexibility; reduced hours; paid overtime; better support with genuine work expenses – these can all make a difference and can be important in retaining staff.

  2.  Involve everyone in boosting productivity.

    We are accustomed to thinking of productivity in terms of how much activity each post can ‘do’; but alongside this we might need to think in terms of how much resource each post can manage. This can often be flexed on the back of successful delivery and experience. Involving staff in a conversation about productivity and helping them understand the link to pay, can unlock innovation and willingness to hold responsibility amongst the workforce - this can allow us to put up wages.

  3. Keep building a positive culture (be nice to your staff!)

    Having an appropriate work life balance, loving your job, feeling valued in your organisation, being listened to and supported to grow are all part of the equation in deciding whether to stay or move to another organisation or out of the sector. We know the pressures within VCSE organisations can lead to toxic environments, which compound the experience of low pay. We need to work every day to make sure this doesn’t happen. If you think your staff or volunteers need to be ruled by fear or benefit from a Monday morning rollocking you are doing it wrong.

  4. Compare your roles to other organisations doing the same thing.

    If you are paying less than others for the same role there is something wrong. The reasons for this can be complex, but you need a plan to fix it. Skills and Talent will be bleeding out of your organisation.

  5. Think about your pay structure, not just your posts.

    Often organisations have increased resource to attract better candidates but won’t offer the post at a higher level as it decreases the difference between tiers of officers. If this is happening something is going wrong, and you need a plan to fix it.

  6. Organise and work together to make sure the resource available to you isn’t whittled away. The VCSE should not be used as a mechanism for undermining the labour market. If our way of delivering value is driving people into foodbanks, we need to do it differently. If we compete by offering poverty wages, we are part of the problem.

Whilst VCSE organisations must retain a focus on their beneficiaries we don’t get there by ignoring the needs of paid staff. We are working on many different areas of this to improve both the amount of resource available to you and your capacity to support each other to be the best employers that you can. Critically we know you exist within a wider system that doesn’t always support staff being valued as they should, and we need to work together to effectively challenge that.

Author: Stephen Raybould, Programmes Director - BVSC