Theresa May has called a General Election for the 8th June. NCVO has some good information for charities that are thinking about campaigning and I am sure that they will be providing more support to charities on how to work within the Lobbying Act.
However, with only 51 days from now until the election, charities need to get their act together quickly if we are going to shape the agenda to ensure that we are best able to support our beneficiaries. Here are some thoughts on how we can do this.
1. We must link charities with the biggest challenges facing politicians
It is tempting to think that Brexit will be the be all and end all of the debate, and it is certainly likely that Theresa May will want Brexit to be the focus of the campaign – as she hinted during her speech announcing the General Election.
But all parties will need a programme for government. Even Brexit will come back to key issues such as health, housing, education, international aid and building a better society – after all it was to enable these challenges to be addressed that Brexiteers argued for the UK to leave in the first place. Moreover, no government will want to be pigeon holed as just being focused on one issue.
It is important that charities input in the policy discussion on how we can solve these issues. With such a short campaign, politicians are not going to have pre-prepared manifestos and are likely to borrow heavily from experts and practitioners – particularly the charity sector.
2. If government is going to take, it needs to give
There is a risk that this becomes a traditional conversation where we give policies to future governments or offer to do more to help beneficiaries, with government then exploiting that eagerness to be useful and giving nothing substantial in return.
However this cannot go on indefinitely. Charities have seen their costs increase steadily over recent years with increases in the National Living Wage, Business Rates, Apprenticeships Levy and Insurance Premium Tax as well as the continuing burden of irrecoverable VAT.
If government wants to work with charities to deliver its agenda, and it will need to if wants to succeed, then it needs to takes responsibility for improving the operating environment for charities. If government wants us to do more, then it needs to give charities the resources to do this – or at the very least, not make it more expensive to deliver help to those that need it.
The deficit and the question of how to resolve it will still remain after Brexit, and it is important that charities are not raided in order to balance the books.
3. We need to give them practical, evidence based policies
It is also important that we do not focus on vague sentiments or statements of support. We need to get specific proposals agreed by parties or at the very least commitments to reviewing specific proposals once in office.
We know that governments of all colours value the work of charities. But what are they going to do to make it easier to do that work?
CFG has put forward a number of costed and evidenced proposals forward to government through our Charity Tax Plan and we have worked with colleagues from across the sector to put forward detailed submissions in previous Budgets/Autumn Statements.
This is the kind of work that we need to continue and keep putting the business case forward to all parties.
The equation for politicians is a simple one:
Improve operating environment for charities = more beneficiaries supported = stronger society.
However, all parts of this equation need to be balanced if we are really going to unleash charities to be the best that they can.