General Election 2017: The campaigns through a charity lens

June 7, 2017 at 16:44

Tomorrow the country goes to the polls and the outcome is still uncertain.

CFG has been quietly working on this election campaign, doing a number of briefings for MPs and Peers, as well as targeting support in seats where we felt some of the biggest charity finance issues (such as business rates, Apprenticeships Levy and Brexit) were most keenly felt. We are hoping to follow up with those contacts that we have made post-election so that the next government doesn’t ignore charity finance issues.

But what has the campaign meant for charities? Here is a personal reflection, through a charity sector policy lens, about what General Election 2017 has told us about the current state of UK politics and how this may influence future policy.

The beginning of the end of austerity?

I was giving a presentation during this campaign and to end on a bright note, I referenced the fact that all the main political parties appear to have agreed that we are reaching the practical limits of austerity. Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have all outlined increased spending in areas such as the NHS, mental health, education, law enforcement/security (helpfully visualised by Sky News, see below).

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The Conservatives have also pushed back their deficit target to 2025, which gives them more wiggle room to make cuts and I am assuming that they hope that stronger growth might eliminate the need to make cuts altogether (something that was a feature of the previous Chancellor’s approach to deficit reduction).

I also noted that that National Research Centre’s British Social Attitudes has seen the trend on more tax/spend v less tax/spend invert, with the amount who would be happy to pay more tax and see more service provision going up after a long term downward trend which started before the recession. Most people still want the status quo, but that could change if the overall political environment leans towards the need for more spending.

The IFS has frequently highlighted that austerity may hit a political nerve which makes it hard for further cuts to be made. Perhaps we have hit that moment?

Of course, there will still be cuts to come which will impact on charities particularly at the local government level – what I have termed “centralise credit and decentralise blame” strategy. We aren’t out of the woods yet by any means and smaller charities, are likely to still be in choppy waters. But as the NCVO’s Almanac has showed, central government spending has held up better than was anticipated, so perhaps the pressure on charities income from government sources may not be as high as it was a few years ago. We’ll have to wait and see.

Social care, security and Lobbying Act

Social care, security (understandably given recent events) and Lobbying Act are all issues which will impact charities and have been key parts of this campaign.

On social care, there is clearly a recognition from all parts of the political spectrum that we cannot continue with the system as it is. Charities as one of the main deliverers of social care have a big role to play in shaping that debate and also wider issues about the sustainability of the market place. If politicians want to reduce the cost of care (and therefore the taxes required to pay for it) they could help by reducing the costs of delivers such as charities, through measures such as businesses rates and irrecoverable VAT. We need to make a case for this and not be embarrassed to talk about our needs (even if that means more money).

On security, the Prime Minister’s “enough is enough” comment seems to sum up the public mood. All parties want to do more to reach out to communities to combat extremism. However, the Conservatives have put forward a Commission on Combatting Extremism in their manifesto which specifically references civil society, and the previous Counter-Terrorism Strategy was supposed to include a review of the risks facing public sector and charities from extryism. So expect to see progress on this issue.

Finally on the Lobbying Act, there have been a lot of mixed messages. Reform doesn’t look any more likely, but there are clearly tensions between those that believe that the Lobbying Act is restricting their ability to campaign and those that do not believe that is due to the Act. This may speed up the next government’s response to this issue, although it is hard to say what the outcome will be.

What haven’t we heard about?

The list of dogs that haven’t barked in the night is quite long in this campaign.

Tax has hardly been mentioned at all by the Conservatives, and this creates risk that should they win there may be tax rises for employers to help balance the books. Labour also has some big tax plans, which the IFS has said this morning don’t add up, so there could be cost increases there. Charities will need to pay attention, as the past few years have seen a continuous trend in terms of squeezing employers as a way to raise living standards without the government having to stump up the cash.

Brexit has also not featured much except in terms of the need to get a good deal. What kind of deal will we get? Who knows? But charities need to stand up for themselves regardless, as we heard at the CFG Annual Conference. We’ll certainly be putting out some work fairly shortly on what the priorities and opportunities for the next government should be.

Finally, social security has been a strangely quiet issue. All parties seem to have held off on debate on this topic, perhaps because there is an agreement that there can only be political losers from discussions about this. Apart from Winter Fuel Allowance, there hasn’t bene much about the future of the social security system or pensions, and this makes me nervous. Nervous for charity beneficiaries which are often dependent on social security and for charities who either have to pick up the slack and where pensions changes could add further costs. Let’s see what they do.

CFG election coverage

As you’d expect, I’ll be tweeting about this throughout Friday along with my colleagues Anjelica Finnegan and Heather McLoughlin as well as our CEO Caron Bradshaw, so make sure you follow those twitter accounts.

We’ll also do a live blog with some analysis of what this may mean for the charity sector depending on the result over the days following the result.

Things to look out for if you are watching the coverage on Thursday night/Friday morning though are seats, Lib Dems and youth vote.

Seats, because they will decide who forms the next government. Liberal Democrats because if there is a lack of a revival there, it will encourage a more ‘traditional’ confrontation between Conservatives and Labour on policy issues such as immigration, state intervention and public services. Youth vote, because this could be an election where we see young people highly engaged, and if they are disappointed by the result, this could further change the political landscape.

See you on the other side!