Yesterday we brought you our first review of what we’d discovered on our stand at party conference – you can catch up with it here. And below is part two, with the same caveats as yesterday applying…
One of the biggest divides in CAF’s ‘Under the Microscope’ report came on the issue of whether charities deliver public services effectively. Conservative MPs were much more likely to agree that they do than Labour MPs, although the gap between voters supporting the different parties was negligible. Whilst not quite as pronounced as the gap between Parliamentarians that divide continued to be demonstrated at conference, we did find that attendees at Conservative conference were more likely to agree that charities deliver public services effectively than those at Labour conference.
We did have a number of conversations about this issue, and got the impression that members of each party were influenced by their different political philosophies. At Labour conference, we found that many visitors to our stand were actually answering the question as a negative because they believe that all public services should be delivered by the state, rather than actually casting aspersions on the ability of charities to deliver effectively. Meanwhile at Conservative conference, we found greater support for the involvement of external bodies in providing services, and particular support for the use of smaller, local organisations. Others answering the question in the negative cited recent stories about Kids Company, although most acknowledged that this does appear to be an isolated example of charity mismanagement.
We found greater agreement at the conferences when we asked about whether charities should be protected from public spending cuts, with attendees at the two conferences both more likely to agree than any other group. Amongst those arguing that charities shouldn’t be protected, the most common reasoning we heard was that people thought that charities shouldn’t be protected at the expense of other spending commitments, and there was greater support still for the idea of charities being protected from disproportionate cuts – IE having funding to charities reduced by a larger percentage than that of total savings.
This question did lead to a number of interesting discussions about the relationship between the state and charities, particularly when it comes to grant funding and the allocation of public service contracts. For a minority of visitors, there was a feeling that charities should not receive any government money at all, whereas others argued that charities are often able to maximise their resources more effectively than public or private providers, and therefore should be supported by national and local government.
Finally, we also asked whether charities should be able to campaign and challenge policies, particularly relevant in the year of the first election for which the Lobbying Act has been in force. We found that attendees at both Labour and Conservative conference strongly believe that charities should be able to campaign, with over 90% of voters agreeing with the statement at each event. The only group that saw less than 60% of respondents answer this question positively was Conservative MPs.
In the conversations that we had on the stand, although most people were supporting of campaigning there were some caveats. Some visitors to the stand raised concerns about charities getting involved in campaigning that they believed was too close to “party political,” citing examples of activity that they believed was a little too close to the line. However, the overwhelming majority of visitors gave us positive examples of the impact that they believe charity campaigning has had, and argued that the expertise and knowledge of charities can help to contribute a great deal to political debate and discourse to improve the lives of their beneficiaries.
That’s all for us from party conference season 2015. If you’ve got any questions to ask us about what we got up to, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @cafonline. In the meantime, we’ll be getting our planning hats on and starting to think about what we can do next year!