Understanding Manifestos – what do charity workers think about plans for the future of the sector?

At the start of the election campaign and whilst manifestos were still being finalised, you may recall that we surveyed a number of charity workers to get their thoughts about the profile given to charity issues in politics, and to find out how much they knew about party policies that would impact upon them. Suffice to say, the results weren’t that encouraging…


We decided to dig a bit deeper after each party put forward their plans for the next Parliament. So, with less than a week to go until the election, what do charity workers think about policies and the election campaign?


Firstly, less than one in six (16%) agree that charities are sufficiently on political agendas. Only 5% think that political parties are communicating their policies for the voluntary sector effectively, a figure just slightly increased from the 2% of charity workers answering in the affirmative when we asked the same question at the start of the campaign.


This seems to suggest that the manifestos haven’t made an impact, but upon closer inspection that isn’t the case. Whilst no party’s policies for the charity sector are understood by more than half of charity sector workers, there has been a significant increase in the understanding of each parties’ plans since campaigning began. In fact, each party has seen understanding of their policies increase by at least 13 percentage points in the past month.


It’s fair to say that manifestos have helped to increase the understanding of policies, but there remains a sense in the sector that charities are not being given the prominence that they deserve. Even though each party has put forward relevant policies for the future of the charity sector, only those following the campaign closely will have seen or heard leaders talking directly about these plans and what they would mean, which might explain why so few charity workers believe that policies affecting their organisation are being communicated effectively.


Turning to the manifestos directly, we asked charity workers about each of the policies put forward by parties without explicitly referencing the party (or parties) making that proposal. Of course, the consensus between parties in a number of areas means that there are areas where policies converge and our results reflect that.


The most popular policy in manifestos is that of encouraging young people’s volunteering and social action, which nearly all parties support in some form. Within this area, there was particularly strong support for encouraging young people’s social action in schools, colleges and universities, and improving the citizenship curriculum in schools.


Also popular were policies promoting the development of the social economy, and plans to exempt food banks and charity shops from some local authority fees. At the other end of the spectrum, the least popular proposal was that of scrapping much of funding for volunteering and social action programmes, both at home and abroad.


Here are the different policy proposals that we surveyed charity workers about, listed in order of popularity:


  • Encourage young people’s volunteering and social action
  • Develop the social economy by supporting social enterprises, mutuals and co-operatives
  • Exempt food banks and charity shops from local authority fees to dispose of unwanted goods
  • Maintain or increase government support for international aid
  • Remove charitable status from private schools
  • Make volunteering for three days a year a workplace entitlement for employees in large companies and the public sector
  • Expanded role for charities in delivery of public services
  • Repeal the Lobbying Act
  • Support social investment through increased use of social impact bonds and payment by results
  • Stop funding the Office for Civil Society’s social action programmes and DfID’s International Citizen Service Volunteers


It’s particularly interesting that the top two policies are those on which there is significant political consensus, and hints at some of the ideas that might make it into any coalition (or other) government agreement. Readers might also be surprised to see such little support for the repealing of the Lobbying Act, which is not considered to be as important when reviewed relatively to other policies. However, not all respondent charities are involved in campaigning or lobbying, which means that the legislation is less likely to impact upon their work directly.


Post-manifestos, we now have a clearer understanding of what charity workers think about the election campaign. There is greater understanding of what each party is proposing, and even though many charity workers are sceptical about the lack of attention being given to the charities during the campaign, most believe that the election result will have an impact on the future of the voluntary sector – although quite what that impact will be remains anyone’s guess at present. But stay tuned, as we’ll be bringing you our reaction as soon as the votes are counted, including a look at what the largest party’s manifesto means and the policies that appear likely to make it into a Queen’s Speech.

Steve Clapperton

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