Brexit – what role is there for charities?

Ever since the new Prime Minister Theresa May first used the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit,’ people from all different walks of life have been trying to work out exactly what it will mean in practice, and how it will affect them. Charities are no different. The Government has as of yet failed to give a clear indication of what it will prioritise in negotiations, and those responsible for Brexit have made it clear that they will not be giving a running commentary on the process, believing that to do so would weaken the UK’s position. The lack of clarity is only exacerbated by battles over Brexit now being waged in courtrooms as well as in Parliament.


What we do know is that there is an appetite within the Government for ideas. They are looking for solutions to establish how Brexit can “work for everyone,” to quote the Prime Minister, and it’s important for charities to put forward arguments about both how Brexit might impact upon their work, but also the opportunities that it presents.


CAF launched a report to coincide with the political party conferences – A Stronger Britain – where we investigated the social climate in the aftermath of the referendum result, before putting forward some thoughts of our own on how charities and government can best work together to strengthen society. Our research found that many people are concerned that their local community has become more divided since Brexit, and that people are increasingly getting involved with politics, charities and social action in order to pursue the changes that they wish to see enacted.


What challenges and opportunities do you think Brexit could pose for charities? Let us know at or on twitter @cafonline


Charities’ role in community cohesion

We believe that there is a key role for charities in helping to develop community cohesion. The recent rise in hate crimes has been extremely worrying, and action needs to be taken to ensure that this is rendered a short-term blip rather than part of a longer-term trend. Charities have excellent reach and influence in communities across the UK, and are viewed as more trustworthy than both central and local government, which means that some people feel more comfortable engaging with them. We think that charities should be tasked with monitoring levels of community cohesion, reporting back to government and urging them to take action where at-risk groups face particular challenges.


Where do charities fit into devolution deals?

Brexit also occurs at the same time as more powers are being devolved from central government, with areas such as the Northern Powerhouse gaining substantial powers. So far, too few charities have been able to feed into devolution processes, and we want to make sure that charities are able to work collaboratively within those processes to ensure that local areas are making the most of the contribution that charities can make. We also want to see directly elected mayors given an explicit mandate for growing civil society in their local area, using their status and new powers to help develop participation in philanthropy and social action. This will help ensure that areas with devolved powers have their own civil society and commitment to civic action to build on.


Civil Society in the rest of the world

There is also a role for charities in helping with the UK’s international standing and relations during and post Brexit. The influence of charities globally offers one of the best ways to the UK to use ‘soft power’ to influence the adoption of our liberal values and principles, and encourage countries across the world to develop their own civil society has many benefits for the UK. The countries to which the UK provides aid are changing, as some countries develop and are no longer classed as in need of aid. We would like to see areas to which the UK is concluding its aid programme given support from the UK to put in place the structure and frameworks that they need to build their own civil society. Not only would this allow the UK aid programme to leave a lasting legacy, but it would empower people across the world to give to the causes that they wish to support, giving them the capacity to use their own resources to continue to develop.


Charity advocacy law in the UK

Of course, much of this depends on the UK being viewed favourably externally. Recent policies in the UK that have made it harder for charities to advocate – such as the Lobbying Act and the ‘Anti-Advocacy Clause’ – have been viewed as part of a wider international trend that sees government introducing policies that restrict civil society organisations, and encouraging others to adopt our own approach can only be successful if the UK practises what it preaches and allows a free civil society to flourish. To that end, we want the Government to enshrine the freedom of charities to advocate within UK law, possibly through the proposed British Bill of Rights.


The City of London as global centre of philanthropy

Finally, we want to see the Government ensure that the City of London’s status as a global centre of philanthropy is protected during Brexit talks. The generosity of donors and companies within the City empowers charities across the UK to do so much good, and it is essential that our philanthropic core is not weakened by withdrawal from the EU. We urge the Government to reflect on this during negotiations and preserve the City as an embodiment of the principle that those with the most go out of their way to help those with the least.


What do you think the government should prioritise?

Our ideas would see charities given a core role in the UK’s new settlement, in delivering localism, strengthening and protecting local communities and helping the UK retain global influence. In addition we would see the freedom of charities specifically protected within law, and the ability of charities to help people bolstered by the retention of the generosity of the City of London.


These are just some ideas we have about what Brexit should mean for the relationship between government and charities, and how charities can help make a contribution during the years ahead. But we’d love to hear from you too. Let us know what you think the government should prioritise by getting in touch at or on twitter @cafonline

Steve Clapperton

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