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CAF Policy Team

A champion for charities

Charities Aid Foundation


16 May 2017

The Liberal Democrats became the latest party to release their election manifesto today, as the campaign to elect the next government heats up. Following on from Labour and Plaid Cymru yesterday, and with the Conservative party expected to launch their report tomorrow (or are they?), the Lib Dems have got today’s news cycle all to themselves, and they didn’t disappoint.

A commitment to a second EU referendum, plans to legalise cannabis and the intention to add 1p to income tax – no one could accuse Tim Farron and his team of playing this one safely. The Lib Dems are out to mark themselves as the party of Europe, and are not afraid of suggesting that they wouldn’t go through with Brexit if the British public changed their mind.

But the interesting thing about all of their plans is that the Lib Dems admit – in the manifesto – that they don’t actually think they’ll get the chance to do any of it! "In every other manifesto, a Liberal Democrat leader has set out a vision for government," Farron says in his foreword. But he goes on, "I want to make a different case to the British people...the Conservative Party is on course to win this I am asking you to give me your support to make the Liberal Democrats the official opposition." This pitch not to be the party of government, but to be the official opposition, puts the Liberal Democrats in a slightly different position than Labour and the Conservatives, who are setting themselves apart in a fight over Number 10. Instead, the Lib Dems get to put forward a radical plan for government knowing that they are not seeking permission to deliver it, but rather they are seeking approval to hold Theresa May and co to account. Interesting.

All that aside, this blog is about politics and charity so let’s get on to that…

In line with what we’ve already seen from Labour and Plaid thus far, the Lib Dems too seem to have overlooked the charity sector in much of their manifesto. Some of what they have outlined will be welcomed by those in the sector – a commitment to 0.7% GDP spend on aid, increased support for social investment, and a strengthening of the Social Value Act to name a few. In addition, there is a renewed focus on tackling social inequalities and social injustices like homelessness, mental health inequalities and poverty, that charities will be only too glad to support. And yet, there was very little in the manifesto that showed a commitment to utilising charities to make and deliver good policy.

There are over 160,000 charities in the UK. They work on everything from housing to health, from sport to social isolation. They deliver services, they provide support, they stand up for those most in need or pick up those who have been knocked down. They are in many cases, the lifeblood of communities. 98% of people report using a charity at some point in their lives[1] and the work that they do every day on the ground has furnished them with expertise and experience that policy makers could only dream of having. So why are they not featuring in manifestos? In part it’s probably down to the fact that most parties had to turn these manifestos around very quickly, meaning little time to develop new policy ideas or consult a whole load of people. But it may also be intrinsically linked to a deeper feeling about the role of charities in society. That is why CAF has been campaigning for some time to have charities recognised as key stakeholders in the delivery of better policies, and we will keep making that point until we’re blue in the face.

The Liberal Democrats should not come in for too much criticism though. They have at least mentioned things that other parties have not, like social investment, and their focus on issues like addressing poverty, closing the educational attainment gap or assuring the rights of EU workers will be welcomed by many in our sector.

The stage is now set for the SNP, UKIP and Conservatives to unveil their plans. Will it make happier reading for charities? Let’s wait and see…

[1] CAF Charity Street II report