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Charities Aid Foundation

As Jeremy Corbyn launches the Labour Party manifesto, we ask, ‘what’s in it for charities?’

15 May 2017

With just over three weeks until the general election, political parties are beginning to put forward their plans for government. Today saw Jeremy Corbyn launch the Labour Party’s manifesto. Whilst much of the content was already leaked last week, this is the formal version that underpins the party’s platform for government.

First of all, there are surprisingly few mentions of charities or the voluntary sector within the manifesto. Charities do a great deal to provide support to people and communities across the country, including helping to deliver public services and providing support to vulnerable people. Yet not only is there no comprehensive vision for the relationship between government and charities, but there is also little said about the role of charities in tackling some of the social problems that the manifesto explicitly focuses on, such as mental health and homelessness. Few would argue with the notion that charities have a great deal to contribute in these areas; it is surprising that this potential is neither noted, nor expanded upon.

It's also disappointing that no action is proposed to increase volunteering. Volunteering gives people the power to shape and improve their own community and make a contribution to causes that they care about. By its nature a voluntary activity, volunteering still benefits where government takes a role in facilitation, and this is particularly true amongst young audiences, where there is often enthusiasm for the concept of volunteering with limited knowledge about how to transmit this into action. The rise of the social action agenda in recent years has helped put youth volunteering on the political agenda, yet Labour’s manifesto makes no mention of this.

In fact, volunteering can be part of the solution to the area where Labour does foresee a role for civil society organisations; namely in tackling loneliness. Labour aspires to bring together communities, civil society organisations and business to work with government on this important issue. This builds upon the Post-Careers Advice Service idea that CAF has proposed, which would see retirees given information about volunteering opportunities in their local area. Not only would this help to tackle loneliness amongst older people, but there are other associated health and wellbeing benefits, and engagement in civic activities such as volunteering can help provide a sense of purpose.

Two policies that Labour proposes are areas where charities have long had a vocal stance. Labour proposes repealing the Lobbying Act, which has made it more difficult for charities to speak up for beneficiaries at election time, and also reaffirm their commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid. In addition, Labour’s language around reinstating the Civil Society Challenge Fund also hints at embracing the role that charities can play in delivering soft power, which is a concept that CAF will be exploring more in the coming months.

Other policies that charities may want to be aware of include:

  • A pledge to double the size of the co-operative sector
  • Removing the VAT exemption on private schools, many of which are charitable organisations
  • Scrapping the Great Repeal Bill and maintaining existing European-level protections on areas including environmental and social protections
  • Extending Freedom of Information to cover private companies that deliver public services, which presumably would also cover charities
  • Developing a cross-government strategy for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals

There are other policy areas that will of course have relevance for individual charities, but it is the lack of a plan for the sector as a whole that is the most concerning. CAF is proud to champion the contribution that charities make to society, and we reiterate our calls for a productive relationship between charities and government. Charities are a willing ally in the fight to tackle the challenges that the country faces; political parties must do more to make use of the unique contribution that they can make.