Charities vow to fight back amid worsening political hostility

A survey of charity representatives found that more than two thirds (78%) believe politicians' attitudes to civil society campaigning has become more negative over the last year.

This is up on figures from the same survey in 2020, when 63% thought politicians views of civil society campaigning was negative.

But charities have vowed to continue campaigning in the face of politicians' concerns.

Among charity representatives surveyed, 30% say they are more willing than before to speak out or act in ways that some might disagree with.

One said the sector “should be unafraid to stand up for their values and for what they are established to do”.

Another said “we need greater solidarity across civil society and to share out platforms, especially with smaller and community or user led organisations”. This is needed to “robustly defend sector players who are aggressively singled out”, they added.

The survey was carried out among 118 charity representatives, including trustees, chief executive, and managers, between October and December last year by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMF).

This also found that 29% of those surveyed felt attitudes to charity campaigning among UK charity regulators was more negative in 2021 than the previous year. Only 4% thought attitudes among the regulators had improved.

High profile recent concerns by politicians have included Conservative Party chairman and former Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden's comments criticising charities that ran campaigns addressing their slave trading past.

SMF’s survey also found that almost all (96%) of those surveyed believe “there are threats, formal or informal, to the freedom to organise, speak out, or protest”.

The biggest threats to campaigning are proposals in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to restrict protest, along with negative comments from politicians.

Other legislative threats include the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which proposed to restrict access to judicial reviews.

Election legislation, including the Lobbying Act, as well as proposals to criminalise journalists who publish leaked information, are seen as further curbs on charity campaigning.

Those surveyed also think the public’s attitude to charity campaigning is worsening. In 2021 more than a quarter (26%) thought the public were more negative about charity campaigning, compared to 19% in 2020.

Earlier this year the NCVO in its Road Ahead Report called on charities to be “braver” in tackling so-called ‘culture-wars’ attacks on charities.

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