Campaigning climate has got worse, say half of charity campaigners

Research by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation finds that campaigners blame an 'atmosphere of intolerance from Whitehall'

Campaigning: perception of a worsening environment (Photograph: Getty Images)
Campaigning: perception of a worsening environment (Photograph: Getty Images)

Almost half of charity campaigners believe the climate for campaigning has got worse over the past year, new research shows.

Research conducted by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, published today, shows that 49 per cent of charity campaigners thought the campaigning environment had got worse for charities over the past year, with only 16 per cent saying it had not. The rest said they did not know.

Comments from those who said they thought the campaigning climate had become more difficult included that "the atmosphere of intolerance from Whitehall has grown" and "some charities are increasingly less certain about when, how and how boldly to campaign".

Others said funding was becoming more difficult to come by, and others pointed to negative perceptions of civil society and negative media coverage.

The research, which was conducted among 148 charity campaigners, found there had been an increase over the past year in the proportion of respondents who believed the threats to the legitimacy of charity campaigning had grown.

Ninety-three per cent of respondents said campaigning was under threat, up from 90 per cent in the same survey last year.

Asked what they thought the threats to campaigning were, two-thirds of respondents said "negative media coverage of civil society", the most commonly selected answer, ahead of 64 per cent who said the lobbying act and its regulations.

Sixty-two per cent of respondents said conditions of public funding, and 55 per cent said senior managers or trustees were being more cautious about campaigning.

Asked if the environment around campaigning had affected their board in the past three years, slightly more than a third, 37 per cent, said it had made them "more cautious" about campaigning.

But 32 per cent said it had "made them more determined about campaigning".

At the same time, there was positivity from slightly more than a third of respondents that there had been developments that helped to make the campaigning environment more supportive.

These included more support from campaigning organisations, the polarised political environment creating opportunities as well as threats, and social media making campaigning more accessible.

Asked what they thought civil society organisations should do to improve the environment for campaigning, responses included communicating that campaigning is the responsibility of all civil organisations, to "regard participation in politics through campaigning as a key part of a social democracy" and more collaboration between charities.

"We need to be stronger on campaigning at a time like this, not shying away from it," one respondent said.

Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, said it was the second year that its research had that showed half of campaigners felt the campaigning environment had worsened.

"Despite warm words from the government about charities being free to campaign, it continues to impose gagging clauses and refuses to abolish or even amend the lobbying act," she said.

She called on civil society organisations to work together to get their voices heard.

"At a time so many feel their voices are not heard, the public, including some of the most vulnerable people, need us to be at our best.

"If ever there was a time for civil society to come together to speak loudly and clearly for the removal of these impediments, it is now."

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