Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Partnerships and Communications sets out top tips for how charities can respond to the General Election. @Duncanshrubsole
The General Election we were promised would not happen has now been formally launched by the Prime Minister with a blistering speech in Downing Street. What does this mean for the voluntary sector and where should we focus our efforts over the next five weeks and beyond?
First there are some under-reported but important practical implications:
- Loss of current policy – Whilst the Homelessness Reduction and Istanbul Convention Bills made it onto the statute book before the election, other legislation, such as banning abusers from cross-questioning their partners in the family courts, that charities have long been campaigning for, has disappeared. Will they come back? Sadly given the scale of the legislative challenge we face around Brexit there is no guarantee. On the non-legislative front, policies we and others have been working hard with the Office for Civil Society around improving public service commissioning practice, particularly for smaller charities, has been put on hold – just as it was making real progress! We must not give up and must all be ready to push these priorities back on the agenda again once a new government is formed.
- Lack of focus on local elections and metro Mayors – The General Election has overshadowed the local council and Mayoral elections this week viewing them only through the prism of national politics. Yet policy and spending decisions taken by local councils are key for most charities and these new Mayors have the potential to drive forward change and catalyse new approaches – charities must therefore work hard to both be high on their agendas and to make the general case for the importance of good devolution.
While Brexit is obviously central, it is vital that the General Election provides the opportunity for a genuine national conversation about how we tackle the big issues that affect people’s lives, against a backdrop of social, economic and demographic pressure and huge pressures on the public finances. If the parties, politicians and media won’t do this, the voluntary sector must step-up and fill the void.
Both individually and collectively, charities should be actively raising awareness of the issues/causes/people and communities we were created to serve and challenging the politicians to explain locally and nationally how they will respond.
So here are my five suggestions of how charities – both large and small – should respond:
Encourage those you work with to register to vote – particularly those who are vulnerable, marginalised, young or old, homeless or fleeing abuse. Helping people exercise their right to vote can be an important step towards re-engaging with society and in turn helps get the issues they face aired.
Engage your local candidates –Proactively raise your issues with all prospective candidates. Invite them to visit, go to a hustings or host one. Speak, write to or engage candidates via social media. Tell them about the issues you work around and ask how they as an individual MP would respond and help – what would they do to support your cause or service? There could be over 100 new MPs and many will likely continue to champion the organisations and issues they come into contact with during the campaign once elected. If you’re concerned about how as a charity you can campaign, NCVO has a useful guide.
Shape the agenda – Manifestos still have a week or so to be finalised and so all the major charities should be working all their back-channels hard to try to land their asks but, irrespective of what the final documents say, all charities should proactively seek to shape the agenda – for example landing a major news item, whether nationally or locally, helps force the issues into the election discussion that day. Use your reports, compelling stories of the people you support and any particular timely hooks to get heard.
Prepare for the new Government – Elections always mean new programmes, policy and people. Charities should be using the time until 9 June to prepare for how they’ll engage with new MPs locally and new Ministers centrally. And whilst the last year should teach us nothing is certain, if the polls are correct, for the first time in over 25 years the Conservatives could be governing alone and with a substantial Parliamentary majority. That means if charities want to win support for their cause they need to be able to frame it in ways that will appear to the centre-right.
Speak up for the sector itself – beyond our individual issues and causes, the voluntary sector needs to speak up for its overall purpose, role and value. This election will set the agenda for the next five years. It’s vital that as a sector we set out a vision of why we exist and what we do and can achieve.
Helpfully, there are blueprints ready to help. NPC’s report The ‘shared society’ needs a strong civil society, Julia Unwin’s speech launching the new Inquiry into Civil Society that we are proud to support, or indeed our own Facing Forward report, all set out the importance of the sector and highlight the frameworks, infrastructure, funding mechanisms and policy-making arrangements needed to best harness our expertise, particularly for smaller, local charities.
Perhaps the best way of summing up the importance of voluntary sector was made most recently by another group of our politicians, the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities. They said:
“Charities are the lifeblood of society. They play a fundamental role in our civil life and do so despite facing a multitude of challenges. Yet for them to continue to flourish, it is clear that they must be supported and promoted.”
Whilst their Lordships are not standing for election, we hope the party leaders heed their call. But ultimately it is up to us as a sector and as the voice for disadvantaged people, to ensure they do.