Hot in the city? Charity hot spots and cold spots

I’ve been taking a look at a report launched this week by the Centre for Social Justice called Social Solutions: Enabling grass-roots charities to tackle poverty. I wanted to pick up on one area the report looks at – the idea of charity hot spots and cold spots, and take a look at what the evidence tells us.

The report’s press release makes some big claims about areas where there are fewer registered charities, calling them “worrying ‘cold spots’ where charities barely exist”. But the tone in the report itself is more considered, and does look at some of the issues around the data.

On the face of it, the evidence is stark: there are many more charities, and much more charitable spending, in some parts of the country compared to others. And generally the activity appears greater in less deprived areas. The report gives a few caveats to this data, which is based on the NCVO Almanac:

  • It uses only the headquarters of charities rather than the areas they work in (thus skewing the distribution towards London).
  • It only takes registered charities into account excluding social enterprises and small ‘below the radar organisations’.
  • It includes organisations not relevant to solving social problems in their area, including charities that work internationally and animal charities.

(CSJ 2014 Social Solutions p67)

I’d expand on these a bit…

I’m not sure that comparing Hackney and Blackpool is fair

Yes, Hackney is a deprived borough with areas of great need. But its location in central London, and relatively cheap office space, means it is a keenly sought location for many charities. Not all of these will operate exclusively in Hackney, many will have operations across London and the UK. So comparing numbers of charities in these areas as a measure of activity is probably not fair.

There is also an important point around the types of organisation in an area

As they report makes clear the numbers only cover registered charities, not other types of organisation like social enterprises or unregistered groups. But the geography of these groups is not evenly spread either. We know that historically parts of the North of England have a strong link to the co-operative and mutual movements – we could find that these account for some of the apparent difference.

The point about branches and headquarters of charities is also important

The numbers are based on where charities are registered, not where they work. Large charities often have local branches, and while the debate is often pitched as national vs local, many of these branches of national organisations are embedded in and supported by local communities in the same way as local registered organisations.

But, the report does make some good points with sensible recommendations

I’d particularly support the call for the development of a map of organisations across the country. I’m not sure the mechanism described is the right one – I’d much rather a resource like this was developed by the sector itself, and I think it should build on open data principles – but the principle is.

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David Kane David Kane was formerly NCVO’s Senior Research Officer. He discusses open data and emerging trends in the voluntary and community sector and wider civil society.

One Response to Hot in the city? Charity hot spots and cold spots

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