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Working in the third sector: Reality checks!

03 June 2015

Kathleen Caskie looks at the challenges facing those working in the third and voluntary sector in Glasgow.

A recent report, commissioned by the GCPH, highlights that the third sector in Glasgow is employing a highly skilled, professional and committed workforce, an asset that the city should cherish. This can only be good for the vibrancy of the city, and for the lives of people and communities Third Sector staff serve, so there is good news in this report.

However, while the survey found 80% in full-time, permanent contracts, the reality is that many of these ‘permanent’ jobs are at the mercy of two or three year funding programmes. This perhaps correlates with the finding that only 60% of third sector staff surveyed for this report actually felt secure in their job. 

There are growing numbers of organisations structured as social enterprises within the third sector, but there are still a great many services provided by Glasgow’s third sector where an enterprise model is not appropriate, and employment relies on grant funding.

These organisations, on the whole, have been subject to year-on-year funding freezes or actual cuts for several successive years. Many third sector staff across the city have not received increments or even cost of living increases for several years, which is, no doubt, why one-third of those surveyed for this report didn’t feel that they pay they received reflected the work they did. 

Living Wage

One of the recommendations of this report is that public funders should make the payment of the Living Wage a requirement for organisations they fund; this would be a welcome development, but will only work if funders increase the funding they give to organisations to help them pay for this, or, in the case of social enterprises, if these costs are factored in to contract values. 

And, of course, the Living Wage is not a universal panacea for poverty; for many staff in the voluntary sector the number of hours worked has been cut, which will have a bigger impact on their take-home pay than the amount they are paid per hour. 

No surprise that the funding situation places extra strain on workers in terms of job security and long-term prospects! 

The overall picture is that our sector’s educated and loyal workers are facing job insecurity with reduced long-term prospects, and often in-work poverty. Most organisations in our sector set out to be good employers in line with their values of humanity and dignity, but too many face a harsh choice between reducing pay and hours for staff or reducing the overall numbers of staff. 

It’s testament to the commitment, hard work and ingenuity of those working in the third sector that the vast majority of people surveyed said that the quality of their service is undiminished, despite increased demand and decreased funding. 

Stress, health and wellbeing

However, high levels of stress and overwork are a worrying consequence of this. We must be mindful of the long-term impact on health and wellbeing of those working in the third sector. This is something that funders need to keep in mind. Expectations on organisations in receipt of funding are high – often unrealistically so – and there is only so much that can be chipped away before the demoralisation reflected in this report spreads, and before organisations become untenable. 

The message I take from this is that we need to get better at how we look after those who look after the vulnerable.

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About the author

Kathleen Caskie Third Sector Forum Manager

Contact
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Kathleen has recently started work as the Third Sector Forum Manager in Glasgow.  The Third Sector Forum is the mechanism by which charities and social enterprises in Glasgow engage with the Community Planning processes.  Kathleen has worked for a range of national and local voluntary sector organisations and enterprises over a 25 year career. 

Read all blog posts by Kathleen Caskie

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