As regular readers will know, over the course of the election campaign we conducted a programme of research into attitudes held by charity staff towards government, political parties, and the election itself, with a specific focus on the policies proposed by different parties in their manifestos that would impact upon charities.
Our latest survey of charity workers took place shortly after the final election result, and discovered that charity workers are split on whether the result – a Conservative majority government – is good for charities and the voluntary sector. 48% of respondents believe that it is, with 52% disagreeing.
A closer look, however, reveals that levels of optimism for the future of government support for the sector have actually risen with the result. Whilst only a third (31%) of respondents are positive about government support for the charity sector now, research carried out in late 2014 found that only 12% were optimistic, meaning that there has been a significant increase in optimism in the past few months.
Interestingly, whilst there has been an increase in optimism levels both towards government support for the sector and the overall economic climate, there has been a simultaneous decrease in optimism from charity workers when asked about their own organisation’s prospects, and those of the charity sector more widely. Despite this, two thirds still remain optimistic about the future of their own charity.
Our research during the election campaign found that the Conservative Party had the most success in communicating their policies for charities to the voluntary sector when compared to other parties. The Conservatives had a clear section of their manifesto dedicated to their policies for the voluntary sector, which may explain why there was significantly greater understanding of their ideas than those of their main opponents, the Labour Party.
We wanted to find out which particular policies were popular, and we asked charity workers to select the three Conservative policies for the future of the voluntary sector that they considered to be the most important.
The most popular policy was to “take new steps to encourage volunteering,” which 15% of respondents placed in the top three. Respondents wanting to see an increase in volunteering will doubtless be pleased that earlier this week Civil Society Minister Rob Wilson declared that he has a “personal ambition” to increase volunteering.
There was a three-way tie for the second most popular policy. Charity workers are equally eager to see the implementation of plans to double the Aid Match scheme and progress on the pledge to build on the role of the voluntary sector in the delivery of public services, with large support also existing for the retention and meeting of the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid.
At the other end of the spectrum, the least popular policy was that to increase the number of cadet units in schools. The Conservative’s flagship policy of making volunteering for three days a year a workplace entitlement for staff in the public sector or large companies was prioritised by 11% of respondents.
The Queen’s Speech took place whilst our survey was open for responses, and the failure to legislate for three days of paid volunteering within that has led some, including the FT, to speculate that it is a policy that will be scrapped. (The Government also used the Queen’s Speech to announce the proposed introduction of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill – you can read our initial thoughts here.)
We also gave respondents the opportunity to specify any other areas that they thought the new government should focus on to support the sector. Perhaps expectedly, the most common responses were those that can be categorised as “funding concerns,” with other issues including action to ensure that local government can support charities and their provision of services, changes to the tax system to benefit charities and donation, and a reduction in red tape and bureaucracy.
It’s early days for the new government, but it seems that many charity workers are approaching the next five years with a degree of optimism about the relationship between government and charities, and support a number of policies within the Conservative Party’s manifesto. However, the disparity between trends in optimism towards government support and the economy, and the prospects of the voluntary sector more widely is something that needs to be monitored closely, as of course does the way that the Government’s actions impact upon charities over the course of this Parliament.
Our surveys over the election period have proved to be extremely useful in helping us to better understand attitudes across the broader charity sector, and we’re extremely grateful to those who have taken the time to contribute. We’ll be looking to build upon these in the coming months to make sure that we can continue to reflect the hopes and concerns of charities to the Government, and make sure that charities and their integral role in society are not neglected in the big political debates of the next few years.