Did the British Red Cross 'humanitarian crisis' comments harm the brand?

In January, the Prime Minister told parliament that the charity's claims about the NHS were 'overblown', but research for Third Sector suggests it struck a chord.

Mike Adamson: criticised in the press
Mike Adamson: criticised in the press

The comments made in early January by Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, that the NHS and the ambulance service faced a "humanitarian crisis" over the Christmas period, were heavily criticised in some newspapers and by some Conservative politicians. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, even called the comments "irresponsible and overblown" during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in early January.

But have the remarks affected the charity's brand? Third Sector commissioned the research agency Harris Interactive to carry out a survey to establish whether the dispute had damaged the public's perception of the BRC and affected their willingness to donate to it in the future.

The survey of 537 adults, carried out between 30 January and 13 February this year, found that more than seven in 10 of those surveyed were aware that the NHS had been labelled as facing a humanitarian crisis. In terms of who had made the comment, the BRC was associated with it more than any other company or charity.

Fifty-seven per cent agreed that the BRC was right to make the comments about the state of the NHS, and 24 per cent said they felt it should not have done so. Those aged between 18 and 34 years old and from 45 to 54 years old agreed most (both at 50 per cent) that the BRC was justified in having made the comments.

Respondents aged over 65 (24 per cent) were the most likely say that the charity should not have made those comments.

The respondents also sided more with the charity than with the Prime Minister. Only 21 per cent agreed that May was right to reject the claims, whereas 60 per cent felt she was not right to reject them.

In fact, the comments appear to have had a positive impact on the BRC brand. Fifty-three per cent of respondents said they were more likely to support the charity in the wake of its comments; the majority (48 per cent) said they were more likely to donate to the BRC because of the charity's comments.

In addition, 52 per cent of respondents said that the BRC's actions made them trust the charity more, and the same proportion said it had improved their opinion of the charity. Overall, according to Harris, comments about the NHS have improved the public's opinion of the BRC and increased trust in it.

One 58-year-old male respondent said in the comments box: "If the British Red Cross is having to apply more resources to help the NHS, then it is quite right to label it a crisis. I think the BRC would make a good auditor of the quality of service provided by the NHS."

An 18-year-old female said: "I think the BRC is right. More money needs to be invested to ensure everyone in the UK can have access to the best medical attention possible, regardless of their income or background."

In response to the survey, a spokeswoman for the BRC says: "In our country today, this is certainly a very human crisis, at scale. The voluntary sector, the NHS, the government and others must all mobilise together to help the large numbers of vulnerable people who, without action, will continue to face a threat to their health, safety or wellbeing."

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