Voters would back Labour opposition to charity spending cuts

Almost two thirds of people want to see charities protected


The Labour movement and voluntary groups share a number of traits, to the point where the history of many voluntary and labour organisations are intertwined. Many voluntary groups are based on an ethos of collectivism and community, with an emphasis on providing support to the vulnerable and those in need. None of these sentiments would stray far from the principles of the Labour movement, particularly as it developed in the early years.

However times change, and both the role of the voluntary sector and the Labour movement have evolved into the twenty-first century. After a lengthy leadership election that saw thousands of activists campaign for Jeremy Corbyn, now seems a good time to investigate the attitudes of both Labour MPs and Labour voters.

The Charities Aid Foundation’s latest research, ‘Under the Microscope: Examining the Future of Charities in Britain,’ does just that. Through some detailed polling carried out by ComRes of MPs and the public, it gives the first full insight into the impact of recent high profile fundraising controversies on how parliamentarians and the public view charities, as well as a broader understanding of how both audiences perceive the role that charities play in society.

Significantly, Labour MPs are more likely than those from other parties to agree that charities providing public services should be protected from government spending cuts. Our polling shows that almost two-thirds of Labour MPs (65 per cent) agreed with this, while fewer than one in four Conservatives did (23 per cent).

It is an area where the stance of Labour MPs appears to be much closely aligned with the public – 60 per cent of whom want to see charities protected in this way.

This would suggest that, were Corbyn to adopt this position when responding to the government’s Spending Review later this year, he would have significant support both from Labour voters and the electorate as a whole.

Labour MPs and voters also agree that it is important for charities to be able to continue to fulfil their advocacy role, standing up for those in need when they are being hit by government policies. It is one of the areas where MPs on either side of the house are most likely to disagree – 93 per cent of Labour MPs want charities to speak out when government policy will negatively affect people.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, only one in three MPs (33 per cent) in the party of government agree.

Again, here Labour MPs find themselves aligned with the public, among whom 63 per cent agreed that charities should continue to speak up for those in need.

Given the strength of feeling in the Labour party about charities role in speaking our for the marginalised and disadvantaged, it is perhaps surprising that fewer than half of Labour MPs (49 per cent) would prioritise repealing the Lobbying Act, even though studies have shown it impacted upon charity advocacy at the election, and that scrapping the Act was a manifesto commitment. It will be interesting to see whether repealing the Lobbying Act continues to be Labour Party policy in the Corbyn era.

Labour MPs and supporters begin to differ when it comes to focusing on the policies they most want to see implemented for the charity sector. Labour voters are twice as likely as the party’s MPs to want to see politicians act to remove local authority fees for food banks and charities disposing of unwanted goods (38 per cent versus 19 per cent) – a policy from Ukip’s manifesto.

MPs, on the other hand, attach much more importance to maintaining levels of government support for international aid (49 per cent versus 18 per cent).

But these is agreement across the political spectrum, as well as between Labour MPs and their voters, on the need to engage more young people in social action. Getting young people to understand and experience charity at an early age is vital in helping to develop a culture of giving.

If there was one standout feature of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign, it was the way in which it mobilised and engaged young people. With broad support for the aim of getting younger people to volunteer and become socially active, it is to be hoped that – in this area at least – there may be some common ground between the government and opposition which will result in concrete, cross-party action in the years to come.

Steve Clapperton is campaigns manager at Charities Aid Foundation

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