If you want to radically change the way an issue is dealt with what is the best way to do it? If a charity operates in an area that is covered by statutory duties then whatever it does will be dwarfed by government spending—both direct spending and funding given to charities to work on the issue. For instance although large in charity terms, the NSPCC’s £150m income is nothing compared to the estimated £6bn spent by government and voluntary agencies on combating and dealing with the effects of child abuse. This spending will reflect government priorities which, as we all know, may or may not be based on evidence.
But the NSPCC’s strategy aims to change the shape of services for victims of child abuse in the UK, by researching what’s most effective and then lobbying and campaigning government to make sure its services are as effective as possible. So for instance, one of its priorities is looked-after children, who instead of being looked after are actually 20 times more likely to be involved in death or serious injury. The NSPCC has said that it wants to understand the specific issues causing this risk, the outcomes for children in care and how the care system can better protect these children. And it has many other questions like this for other children, where it believes that we still don’t know enough about what is going on or what works. To find out, it is setting up commissions across the country whereby it will deliver services that it thinks are likely to be effective, and then properly evaluate them. The idea is that in five or so years the body of evidence about what works in child abuse will be much better and then the NSPCC can start to campaign for that £6bn spent by government to be spent in the most effective way.
If it goes to plan it could mean a step change in provision for victims of child abuse. One of the reasons why the NSPCC is in such a good position to do this work is that unlike most charities it has a large amount of unrestricted funding because it gets most of its funding from the public rather than from local authority. Nearly 80% of its income comes from donations, legacies and gifts—almost all of which will not restrict its funding in any way. This makes it much easier for it to do this sort of experimental work, rather than being influenced by other people’s priorities. The NSPCC has realised that has this privileged position in its sector and is using this to try to have an impact much wider than those children that its £150m income will directly help. The idea of charities (particularly the larger ones) thinking about how they can influence an entire sector is something we talk about in our work on impact networks. Impact networks are a topic that charities are increasingly thinking about as they seek to do more with their money. It’s great to see a large charity like the NSPCC lead the way.