Campaigning charities dominated by privileged people, new book claims

The End of Aspiration, written by Duncan Exley, former director of the Equality Trust, says people from less privileged backgrounds can be 'crowded out'

Exley's book
Exley's book

Many campaigning charities are too dominated by privileged people and too focused on messages that resonate with people with relative wealth and influence, according to a new book published today.

The book, which is called The End of Aspiration and is written by Duncan Exley, former director of the Equality Trust, says many campaigning organisations are dominated by people from the middle and even the upper classes.

The book specifically cites environmental organisations: Exley says there are numerous examples of privileged people dominating them at the expense of those from other backgrounds.

"You don’t have to be working class to find yourself socially outclassed in environmental organisations," Exley writes.

"My own experience of environmental campaigning suggests a grass-roots movement largely drawn from society’s higher strata: to my knowledge, I know three aristocrats and met all of them, separately, through environmental campaigns."

He says that even campaigns and debates centred on working-class issues can be dominated by people from privileged backgrounds, which means people from less advantageous backgrounds can be "crowded out".

Cultural barriers also exist, Exley says, and there can be a lack of social confidence among people from less privileged backgrounds to speak up and feel like they are being listened to.

The book says many campaigning organisations are attempting to address their lack of diversity and are taking active steps to recruit a more socially representative mix of employees.

For example, the book cites policies adopted by Oxfam – namely, making roles more open to non-graduates and people unable to get specific experience in the sector but who have the passion to make a difference.

The book says that single-issue and environmental charities have for too long been "mainly compelling to people like themselves".

Exley writes that many environmental charities have concentrated on persuading people to focus on saving endangered animals or pristine natural environments, but these issues are more accessible to people who have the money to travel to see these places or creatures in the flesh.

It can also be difficult for people with low incomes to justify donating money to these causes ahead of others that have more immediate impact on their lives, the book says.

Exley argues that environmental charities have overlooked environmental issues that are important to the working classes, such as air pollution, an issue which has only recently crept up the agenda.

The book says: "Because environmentalists could all too easily be portrayed as having their head in the cloud forests, it was easy for their opponents to cast themselves as the champions of ordinary people, ‘freeing the poor from the cost of environmentalism’, and for environmental problems – the rapidly approaching consequences of which will hit the poorest the hardest – to fall off the political agenda.

"In 2000, polling showed that 17 per cent of people thought ‘pollution/environment’ was one of the ‘most important issues facing Britain today’; by 2018 it was down to 8 per cent."

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