This is a tool for charities, voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises that provide services, activities and opportunities for individuals and communities experiencing poverty and exclusion.

Many charities, voluntary organisations and civil society groups are set up with the aim of reducing the effects of poverty. Many do this well, but could they do it even better?

Poverty Proofing the Voluntary Sector enables organisations to take a step back and look more objectively at their relationships with their beneficiaries. It offers advice on how to ensure this relationship is the best it can be and how organisations can use their collective experience and knowledge to influence wider policy and decision-making.


“We deal with people coming for help… [they] want an open door policy, but that’s difficult with two staff”. Below the Waterline, 2014

“There’s pessimism, a lack of optimism, it’s the same as always, but worse, the type of jobs, low paid, apprenticeships”. Below the Waterline, 2014

“We have more drop-in sessions, where we help fill in forms, give advice and signpost to other organisations. Advice sessions, food distribution and job search sessions”. The Big Squeeze, 2013

“All generic staff are having to take on the roles of benefits advisor and debt/money experts much more than before as other specialist advice and help is being cut”. The Big Squeeze, 2013

“We do provide a desperately needed service; we need to be here to represent”. Close to the Edge, 2013

“It takes courage to ring up and ask for help”, Close to the Edge, 2013

“We pick up all the pieces…we’re trying to build relations with partners to help and offer services”. Frozen in the Headlights, 2012

Since 2012 Newcastle CVS has been reporting on the effects of austerity and the impact of poverty on communities and voluntary groups in the city of Newcastle. Like many other cities in post-industrial Britain, Newcastle has experienced poverty that appears in certain parts of the city to be endemic.

The difference in life expectancy between men living in the most and the least deprived areas in Newcastle is 11.9 years for men and 9.1 years for women. Nationally, the gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest is 20 years.

Within this desperate milieu the voluntary sector has a unique place. For many charities, voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises their objective is providing relief from poverty. How they go about achieving that aim is as varied as the number of voluntary and community groups in existence (some 3,000 in Newcastle alone).

The above quotes illustrate some of the issues, pressures and actions that voluntary sector workers and volunteers cope with every day. But the question is, are we doing all we can in the support we are providing and how do we ensure that we enable people using our services to maintain their dignity in the face of almost unimaginable pressures?

Following on from the excellent work of Children North East, Newcastle CVS has sought to respond to this question. With funding from Millfield House Foundation NCVS has developed a tool for voluntary sector groups to allow them to reflect on and critically assess their relationship with the people who are using their services and who are experiencing material poverty.

The tool itself was developed with the help of six voluntary groups in Newcastle, and is intended for use by groups and organisations of all sizes. Using the tool managers, staff, trustees, volunteers and, crucially, the people using the services, will be able to better understand what it means to be part of that organisation, where that organisation fits in within the networks and relationships between voluntary sector organisations and public and private sector bodies, and how to use these connections to begin to address issues of poverty and exclusion.

Poverty Proofing the Voluntary Sector has been developed for voluntary organisations to print out and use independently. However, you can commission Newcastle CVS to design and run a series of sessions for trustees, staff and service users. For more information, please email:

how to use the poverty proofing tool

Poverty Proofing the Voluntary Sector asks a series of questions that allow those responsible for managing and delivering services, as well as those who use the services, to consider how the organisation delivers its services and what it feels like to use those services and support.

The tool allows organisations to identify good practice and where things could be improved. What those improvements look like and how they are implemented will be unique to each organisation. We also provide further suggestions for further tools and approaches for this stage.

To use the Poverty Proofing the Voluntary Sector tool, we recommend you distribute the questions to people working at all levels of the organisation as well as to organisation’s beneficiaries, before coming together into smaller groups to compare and consider answers and jointly identify how to bring about changes where needed.

It is a tool designed to promote reflection and analysis. It does not tell you what to do, but it does provide you with a map of where change is required and offers advice as to how to make your organisation a safe, productive and welcoming place for anybody, whatever their income or status.

Download Poverty Proofing the Voluntary Sector PDF