Government measures deepen crisis for campaigning

By agency reporter
January 19, 2018

Measures introduced by the Government, such as the Lobbying Act, are continuing to take a heavy toll on voluntary, charity and social enterprise (VCSE) campaigning, according to this years’ Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK) Campaigner Survey.
Overall, 90 per cent of respondents believe campaigning by the VCSE sector is under threat and 49 per cent say things have got worse since last year. 87 per cent of respondents believe that government measures are threatening the legitimacy of campaigning, and 55 per cent cite negative media coverage of the VCSE sector. Sixty-one per cent also say conditions of funding discourage campaigning.
It is clear that these threats are knocking confidence in the sector: 63 per cent say that greater caution amongst senior managers and trustees also threatens the legitimacy of campaigning – a 10 per cent increase on last year. However, only 13 per cent say they are campaigning less, raising a question about the actual impact of recent changes. Urgent research is required to determine whether organisations are being more risk-averse in the campaigning they do, in order to conform to new requirements, or whether the changes are having more impact on confidence than actual activity.
These figures confirm a chilling effect, caused by a combination of government restrictions, negative media coverage and increased caution, affecting the sector’s ability and willingness to speak out. Worryingly, this reluctance comes as 92 per cent of respondents predict that more campaigning will be needed in the next 12 months.
The Sheila McKechnie Foundation is deeply concerned by the findings. Sue Tibballs, SMK’s CEO says, “Campaigning plays a crucial role in a healthy democracy – it tracks the impact of government policies, amplifies the voices of people affected, and engages the public in debates on social change.
“The evidence suggests that unclear lobbying legislation and unhelpful rhetoric have knocked charities’ confidence to speak out. Sadly, it’s all too easy to confuse party political activity – which everyone understands is illegal – with proper participation in political debate.
“The Government has a duty to clarify that it recognises charities’ legitimate role in our political process. Government, charities and the media all want to improve public trust, and none of us will do so if we dismiss the value of the others.”

* Sheila McKechnie Foundation


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