Charities need to be 'braver' in tackling culture war threats, says NCVO

The NCVO has urged charities to play a greater role in bringing people together and combating ‘culture war’ threats.

The comments come following criticism during 2021 from politicians around a so-called 'woke' agenda being pursued by charities. This includes Conservative politicians, including former Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, criticising charities for addressing their slave trading past.

One of the highest profile ‘culture wars’ attacks on charities last year was criticism from the right wing former politician Nigel Farage over the RNLI ensuring the safety those travelling to the UK across the English Channel in small boats to seek asylum.

"In the voluntary sector, we have seen politicians criticise some charities for their stance on these issues," says the NCVO’s annual Road Ahead report, which offers a blueprint for the sector over the coming year.

"Politicians are likely to continue to seek dividing lines where they feel there is political advantage in doing so, so we should expect that culture wars will be a part of our political environment in the years ahead."

It says that charities play a vital role in “bringing people together”, adding that "so-called culture wars are where issues of 'identity, values and culture' are used to divide the public for political gain".

“Though few of these topics are new, the use of the term rose in 2021 and charities have been on the front line – if not, that much, on the dividing line – of questions about their positions, legitimacy, and actions,” the report adds.

In a blog post to accompany the report, NCVO’s head of networks and influencing Alex Farrow added that “though there are repeated attempts to divide us, polling shows that our society is far more united than is often portrayed – especially on issues like racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and refugees”.

He said: “Where divides exist, charities can play a crucial role in bringing people together. We must also be braver in calling out those that seek to agitate divides for political gain.”

Despite fears around culture war politics, the NCVO says that the coming year should offer “more political stability”, following the general elections of 2017 and 2019. It is not predicting another election before 2023.

This presents charities with fresh lobbying opportunities, added Farrow.

“Parties will start thinking about the long-term policy agendas (and eventual manifestos) and charities will want to do the same. Campaigners need to adapt, if they haven’t done already, to a government with a large majority in the House of Commons.

“This means a need for new tactics to achieve their desired results.”

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