Three in four charities ‘steer clear’ of local politics, survey reveals

Just under three quarters (73%) of charities are steering clear of engaging in local political issues and less than one in ten (9%) are strongly committed to this work.

The findings have emerged in the latest Third Sector Trends research project, which is gathering the views of thousands of charities across England and Wales.

While seven in ten take part in formal consultations about local social and public policy, “enthusiasm is muted” with only a fifth strongly committed to taking part, found the study, which is compiled by among others the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, Barrow Cadbury Trust and Power to Change.

Lobbying with politicians behind the scenes is only carried out with a strong commitment by 9% of charities.

The study says that given limits to charities' ability to influence policy that supports their good causes and beneficiaries, political engagement is “something of a grey area” for the sector.

“Many trustees may have been unnerved by government attempts to limit charities’ independence” via 2014’s controversial Lobbying Act, which critics warned could have a chilling affect on charities ability to influence politicians, said the study.

“These worries have been aggravated by ill advised statements that charities should ‘stick to their knitting’ rather than get involved in politics,” the study added.

Recent comments have included a statement in 2021 by then Charity Commission chair and former Conservative minister Baroness Stowell urging charities to leave party politics out of their work.

This chilling affect is particularly prevalent among smaller charities, the study suggests. It found that in the North East of England, for example, only 19% of small organisations engage in local politics, compared to half of the largest organisations.

The study concludes: “Becoming agitated about illegitimate political activities of charities, like as not, reveals as much about the government’s political insecurities as it does about the sector itself: not least because the enormous range of political opinion and activity within the Third Sector is so complex that it defies meaningful categorisation.”

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