Bruce Rothberg


Charities Aid Foundation

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CAF hosts The Charity Debate

6 December 2019

caf charity debate 2019 with ncvo

What might the election mean for charities? This week, we heard from each of the parties as CAF hosted the Charity Debate in partnership with NCVO. Here’s how they contributed to three conversations about the sector.

If you missed it, the full event can be watched back on CAF’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Our speakers

  • Conservative Civil Society Minister Baroness Barran MBE
  • Labour’s Shadow Civil Society Minister Vicky Foxcroft
  • Liberal Democrat Baroness Barker
  • Brexit Party MEP Matthew Patten
  • Green Party Councillor and London Assembly Member, Caroline Russell

1     Their vision for charities

Reflecting the general tone of the debate, Baroness Barran described charities as “the glue that holds our communities together” but warned of the strain due to the sense of disconnection and loss of agency that some in society feel. Meanwhile, Vicky Foxcroft focussed on charities that protect marginalised people and explained Labour will help create a “fairer and more equal society”. Equally, she was not afraid to challenge the audience, at one point saying the sector needs more training on unconscious bias, to improve diversity. Matthew Patten drew on his experience of leading charities before becoming a local councillor and MEP, proposing support for “hard-to-reach regions” outside of London. Caroline Russell agreed with his call for democratic reforms, based on her own experience as a councillor and London Assembly Member. Similarly, Baroness Barker described charities as being “overlooked” during this election and a “key actor” in supporting vulnerable communities through turbulent times.

2     The relationship between the state and charities

The contrasting visions of the relationship between the state and charities were starkly revealed in the discussions about supporting small charities and the aftermath of austerity politics. Vicky Foxcroft linked both issues by suggesting that properly resourcing councils would increase funding for grassroots charities and said that the sector should be an “important advisor” on future challenges like restructuring social care. But Patten called Labour’s ideas “utterly impractical” and Baroness Barran said that while the state should take responsibility for longer, more sustainable funding, trustees had to be responsible for strategy-making and working out the funding mix for their organisations. Offering different viewpoints, Caroline Russell advocated Universal Income as a safety net while Baroness Barker outlined the “place-based planning of public services” and criticised councils being “dragged down by Treasury demands”.

3     Brexit, the Lobbying Act and transparency

On some obvious issues, the speakers largely stuck to their respective party lines. So Matthew Patten said that securing Brexit will offer opportunities for tax reform and depicted the EU as “institutionally racist” and Baroness Barran followed Lord Hodgson’s view that there was “room for reform” on the Lobbying Act. But these viewpoints were challenged by the likes of Vicky Foxcroft highlighting the impact of Brexit on funding and Baroness Barker who branded the Lobbying Act’s inclusion of charities a “mistake”.

By contrast, Caroline Russell noted that charity voices should be heard but there must equally be openness around lobbying. She also said that the EU’s failures could be reformed without leaving and international aid should be increased. In fact, transparency emerged as a running theme with Baroness Barker calling for clarity over DFID’s work and Vicky Foxcroft strongly condemning the lack of answers to questions about the National Citizen Service. The NCS was the subject of more strong criticism over its impact and structure, but that was balanced by praise for its work with uniformed organisations in particular.

After the Election

Whatever the result of next week’s General Election, charities can be reassured that they have five powerful allies in these speakers. This was particularly demonstrated in their answers to the final question about their personal interests in the sector. We were treated to a diverse range of heartfelt answers on causes such as digital skills (Baroness Barker), tackling youth violence (Vicky Foxcroft) and inequality (Baroness Barran). In addition, Caroline Russell AM discussed the importance of supporting grassroots charities with local impact and Matthew Patten MEP said that his time running charities were the best days of his life.

Ultimately, as CAF Chief Executive Sir John Low CBE said in his opening remarks, charities cover every aspect of British life and are a powerful cohesive force in our society, so it’s crucial that this election reflects the central role of civil society in all policy areas.


I would particularly like to thank all the speakers for attending and Alan White (News Editor at Buzzfeed UK) for compèring and Be Inspired Worldwide for livestreaming the event.