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Charities Aid Foundation

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT - FOR LIFE, NOT JUST ELECTIONS

7 June 2017

As the election campaign draws to a close, charities will reflect on what has been a testing – perhaps even disappointing campaign.

Notably – as many media outlets have picked up on this week – charities appear to have had a significantly reduced role at this election, with less campaigning and advocacy activity. The Lobbying Act – more so the climate that it has created rather than the rules it introduces – has created a chilling effect for charity advocacy, which has meant a number of charities choosing not to engage. The effect of this is to weaken democracy, and means that marginalised people are not given a voice in the political process. CAF has consistently called for the Lobbying Act to be repealed, and it is pleasing that a number of parties have taken this up as their position over the course of the election campaign. We are also working alongside BOND and other charities to track its impact, and would urge any charities to fill out this survey on how it has impacted their campaigning activities this election period.

The other main disappointment for charities has been their absence from manifestos, with most of the policies proposed for the sector consistency of tinkering around the edges, rather than the big, bold vision of the role of charities in modern Britain. Being generous, one could argue that the ‘snap’ nature of the election has meant that parties haven’t been able to spend as much time as they would wish on policy development.

Nevertheless, a number of the social challenges that parties have identified as needing tackling – think mental health, loneliness, ending discrimination – will need government to work collaboratively with charities to help strengthen society. Regardless of whom forms the next government, charities should be seeking opportunities to work constructively and collaboratively where appropriate, whilst also retaining their independence and ability to act as a critical friend.

Charities themselves will be looking to develop relationships with newly elected MPs. We’ll be looking in more detail at the composition of the new Parliament next week, but charities hoping to shape the political agenda should be seeking out MPs who share their support on issues, and seeking to work with them to shift the policy debate.

For voters, too, elections are typically seen as the focus of a political cycle, with the casting of a vote the best chance to influence politics and create change. However, increasingly people are turning to other forms of action. In the information age, people do not want to wait five years (or two!) to have their voice heard – they want to take action now. In fact, as we know from our research, the number of people who engage with charity in a typical year is significantly higher than turnout normally is at general elections.

When the dust settles on Friday morning, charities will still be the mechanism that many people rely on to try and generate change. Whether it’s supporting a campaigning charity, volunteering time, acting as a community leader or making a donation, charities offer a way for people to pursue the change that they wish to see. Charities need to be bold in continuing to stand up and call for the changes that their beneficiaries needed, and people – whether pleased or displeased with Thursday’s result – need to continue to work with charities to seek change and hold government to account.

In addition, charities do so much to bring people together, showing that there is more that unites us than divides us. In a couple of weeks, the Jo Cox Foundation’s Great Get Together campaign will see charities doing just that. In the wake of a heated election campaign, it’s extremely pleasing to see that charities are taking the lead in seeking to bring people back together. By continuing to give a voice to people and campaigns between elections, charities can make sure that people are engaged and keep people from the margins of society.

Want to share your thoughts with us? Get in contact at campaigns@cafonline.org or tweet us @cafonline

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