Charity issues

Upbeat Communities : There’s money to be made from Syrian refugees

Photo courtesy UNHCR

In September 2015 the Government announced that the UK would accept 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020; this was called the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (SVPR).  The scheme focussed on families who had higher needs and were registered in refugee camps outside of Syria. Derbyshire County Council (not Derby City) agreed to be part of this scheme and the first people started arriving in late 2016. By March/April 2019 98 people, in 21 families had been re-settled within the County.

To support this activity Derbyshire County Council recruited 2 full time posts to co-ordinate the entire activity.  To pay for this, the Government gave funding to the County of £8520 per refugee in Year 1 ( plus £4500 for school age children). This reduced to £5000 per person in year 2, £3700 in year 3, £2300 in year 4, and £1000 in the final year. In addition to the co-ordination activity, the County had to provide casework support which was defined as:

  • Distribution of Biometric Residence Permit card ( ID card)
  • Registering with local schools and English language classes
  • Attending Job centre appointments for benefit assessments
  • Registering with local GP
  • Referral to appropriate mental health services
  • Assisting with access to employment

This was put out to tender and Upbeat Communities secured the contract for Derbyshire.

Upbeat Communities is a small Derby based charity, linked to the Community Church, and part of the East Midlands Christian Fellowship. At the time of securing the case work contract it had 2 paid employees, it’s income was £93k mainly for providing Welcome boxes ( now spun off into a new charity), and ad-hoc support for asylum seekers/refugees. It generated £35k from providing English language classes for more corporate customers which, in turn, helped provide free classes for refugees.

In the 1st 4 months of operating the scheme, Upbeat Communities increased the number of paid staff to 7, costing an additional £40k and received £96k for the casework support for the first 44 people ( 11 families).

In total, over 28 months, Upbeat were paid £371k for the case work support for 21 families (98 people)

In addition to the Derbyshire County Council scheme, they bid for case work for the Lincoln City scheme of 6 families, for which they were paid £75k, up to 31 March 2019.  This totals £282k in 2018/19 from both schemes supported by 3 paid staff costing ~ £60k ( out of a total of 13 staff) ;  this represented 70% of their (non-English Language school) income.

Comment

The East Midlands Christian Fellowship (EMCF), the de-facto holding company of Upbeat Communities, and owner of the Riverside Community Church on Pride Park, stated in the last Chair’s report:

Having spun off their over-rated Welcome Box project to a separate charity ( run by the ex-Chief Exec of Upbeat, Karina Martin) they are now focussing on the lucrative, but short-lived Syrian VPR scheme.

The commercial growth of the organisation from a net worth of £33k in 2016, to £182k in 2019 with £122k in cash, may be considered to be a success but perhaps not so, in the context of their espoused Christian ethos. In the most recent Chair report for Upbeat Communities it was stated,

There is no evidence that the surplus is being directed to support the broad population of asylum seekers, and refugees in the community. The EMCF “vision” does suggest that their primary focus is on those who might attend the “Derby Church” rather than towards the large population of Muslims who seek sanctuary in the City.

In 2.5 years, they have received nearly £0.5m of public money for casework that, elsewhere, would have been readily done by volunteers. A lot of money to be made from Syrian refugees but have they lost their way? They seem to be doing what too many charities do and simply “follow the funding”.

As their Chair states they need, as a Christian charity, to “….understand who they are as an organisation”

 

Categories: Charity issues

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