Michelle Mitchell is our chief executive.
A few short months ago, our ambitious plans for 2020 were in full swing.
More than 4,000 of our funded researchers were working together in labs and hospitals across the UK and our 600 shops were buzzing with activity at the heart of the high street. The build up to our big fundraising calendar – the calendar that millions of our supporters make so special – was about to shift into high gear.
Those few short months already seem like a lifetime ago.
Since the pandemic began in the UK, much of our life-saving research has been forced to pause as universities closed and hospitals switched their focus to COVID-19, and many of our fundraising activities have ground to a halt, such as making the difficult decision to cancel Race for Life this year. The devastating impact on people affected by cancer and those that support them has been well documented, and we keep doing everything we can to help them.
The impact of COVID-19 has been felt in every corner of society, and the impact it’s having on Cancer Research UK and our mission to beat cancer is serious, and it is still unfolding. One of the biggest challenges we face as an organisation right now is managing the fall in our income this year, and the likely ongoing impact of COVID-19 – and one place we have been looking to for support is the Government.
But it has become increasingly clear over the last few weeks that while the Government has provided funding to some charities, medical research charities like Cancer Research UK have so far been overlooked, falling through the gaps of many Government support packages.
Without specific and strategic Government support, the COVID-19 pandemic could have a deep and long-lasting effect on our work and that of other medical research charities, damaging a research infrastructure in the UK that has taken decades to build, and slowing down vital progress for patients.
COVID-19 has affected everything we do
With almost every way we fund our cancer research impacted by COVID-19, we expect to see a £150 million (around 30%) drop in fundraising income between now and March 2021, as we’ve written about before. And as the wider economic impact of COVID-19 is beginning to be felt by everyone, including our donors, the future landscape for many of our fundraising events remains uncertain.
As a result, we have had to take the difficult decision to cut our research funding by £44 million this year in the first instance, and we are considering further reductions in planned spending for coming years.
As the largest independent funder of cancer research globally, we are critically concerned about the impact of this, and how this will limit our ambition to improve cancer survival.
Medical research charities are slipping through the cracks of Government funding
The Government recently announced a £750 million Charity Support Package. While this was a lot less than the sector needed to make up for lost income – estimated to be around £4.3 billion – it was a positive and welcome show of support.
But, like lots of other charities, Cancer Research UK faced huge challenges in trying to access this funding, and now it looks almost certain that we won’t benefit from this support.
More than half of the Government package – £370 million – has been set aside for small community charities through the National Lottery Community Fund. As more detail has emerged on the rest of the money, it’s become increasingly clear that medical research charities like Cancer Research UK will not be included.
Again, though welcome, the £1.25 billion funding announcement for research businesses will not help organisations like ours.
What support have we received?
Outside of COVID-19 measures, we’ve been able to access some support for our shops and staff.
Around 60% of Cancer Research UK’s total workforce have now been furloughed under the Government’s Job Retention Scheme. This means the Government is helping us pay their salaries.
Government has removed business rates – the tax that is applied to our charity shops – for smaller outlets like ours this year. But because charities normally get help with business rates, this measure offers limited benefit.
We have also been looking to access another Government grant scheme that supports smaller high street shops like ours. But this is limited to about £700,000 across our whole network of charity shops, which works out as support for just 30 of our 600 outlets. To put that in context, we’ll have paid £4.5 million just in rent across our network of closed shops by the end of June when they begin to reopen.
All in all, the financial support we are receiving from the Government is limited, and pales into comparison to the knock-on impact on our fundraising efforts.
Together we will still beat cancer
Cancer doesn’t stop during the pandemic. One in two people will get cancer in their lifetime, and we’re doing everything in our power to continue our mission to beat the disease. But without further support, our life-saving cancer research will be set back for years to come.
We’ll continue to make the case to Government, but now more than ever we need our dedicated supporters and partners to help us in any way they can.
We want to continue working towards seeing 3 in 4 people survive their cancer by 2034. With your help we know we can do just that; with your help we can make a difference for the thousands of people with cancer right now and the millions of people to come.
COVID-19 has slowed us down, but we will never stop. Together we will still beat cancer.
Michelle Mitchell is Cancer Research UK’s chief executive officer