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Steve Clapperton

Previously CAF Campaigns Manager

Charities Aid Foundation


CHARITIES NEED TO DO MORE TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THEIR SPECIAL STATUS IN SOCIETY

Steve Clapperton looks at CAF's research into the public's relationship with charities, and says that the government needs to work with the sector to change communities for the better.

Our Charity Street II report shines a spotlight on the enormous contribution that charities make to Britain. Over 90 per cent of households have used a charity at some point, and use of charities is on the rise.

As the country reels from the political events of the past few weeks, and struggles to get to grips with the divisions in society that have been laid bare, its worth remembering that charities are one of the most enduring fixtures in British society. People still trust them, they like and appreciate their work, and feel them to be a force for good, something that brings us all together, something we can all agree on.

However, as integral as charities clearly are to communities across the country, we cannot take their status for granted. Recent research has shown that public trust in charities has fallen, and many are also struggling to cope with the pressures posed by an increased demand for services and ongoing financial difficulties

How can we enhance the role that charities play, and further develop public and political support for their contribution?

Firstly, it’s important that government uses charities to ensure that people are not left behind. People living in the most deprived areas are significantly more likely to rely on charities that provide support and advice, and many of these areas have been disproportionately hit by spending cuts. Charities operating in these areas can often struggle to secure donations, and policy makers need to consider how to secure the link between charitable provision and deprivation so that we do not run the risk of parts of the country being unable to access either public or charity services, fuelling a sense of abandonment.

Secondly, we need to protect the advocacy role of charities so that they can continue providing a voice to the marginalised. Those struggling to cope with the demands of modern life who feel left behind need advocates to speak on their behalf and ensure that their needs and aspirations are not neglected. The research shows that charities are viewed both as best placed and most trusted to advocate on behalf of vulnerable people, and it is essential that government creates a climate in which charities can speak freely on behalf of those in need.

Thirdly, charities need to do more to raise awareness of their special status in society. Even though the overwhelming majority of households have accessed one of the many services that charities provide, they aren’t always aware that it is a charity delivering that service. If charities are to successfully rebuild trust, they need to raise awareness of their special status and ensure that people understand that the organisations they rely on are charities. The positive engagement that people have with charities on a daily basis can then help to develop trust and support for charities more broadly.

Finally, it’s perhaps not surprising that people feel more positively towards charities operating in their local area – we also see this phenomenon with MPs. If the ‘Devolution Revolution’ continues – which of course depends on the policy agenda of the next Prime Minister – charities need to be placed at the heart of that agenda, and given the opportunity to use their resources and expertise to help local people.

Much of this becomes particularly pertinent now. The political and economic repercussions of the past few days have revealed a divided Britain, and politicians will be looking to bring people together and seek answers to some of the big challenges that we face. The onus is on charities and government to work together to ensure that charities can continue providing the vital support to those who need it most, and change communities for the better.

Steve Clapperton is campaigns manager at the Charities Aid Foundation. This article first appeared in Civil Society.