What does the election result mean for the voluntary sector?

Further public spending cuts will put charities under more pressure as fundraising remains hard and curbs on campaigning loom, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

More of the same, only more so: this could be one way of describing the implications for charities and the voluntary sector of the outcome of the election, which was something of a surprise for those who put their trust in the opinion polls. Most of the attention of the new Conservative government will be fixed on the continuing management of the deficit, the integrity of the UK after the nationalist landslide in Scotland and the poisoned chalice of negotiating an EU referendum with a substantial Eurosceptic faction in its own party. But its high-level policies will have a knock-on effect on the sector, and its sector-specific policies will have an effect as well.

Continuing cuts in public spending to help bring down the deficit sooner than a Labour-led government would have done will be the chief source of concern for many charities operating in sectors such as social welfare and criminal justice. They money that comes to them in grants from departments such as the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice will continue to shrink, and they will have to compete ever harder for service-delivery contracts that continue to replace grant funding. Local government will be cut further still, and that will affect local grants and contracts to the sector as well. Cuts to welfare, predicted during the election to total £12bn over the parliament, will put more pressure on charities that help the disadvantaged at a time when their resources are likely to shrink further.

All this will mean greater pressure on charities to become more commercial and redouble their fundraising from the public, the business world and trusts and foundations. Over recent years there has been some success on these fronts, but fundraising in aggregate has been holding its own rather than increasing. Generating income would have remained tough for charities whatever government had come to power, but under the Conservatives it will probably be somewhat tougher than it might have been under alternative configurations. The new government will continue to foster and talk up social investment, but the extent to which it will take off remains unclear. Then there’s that pledge to allow three days’ paid volunteering to staff in larger businesses: if it happens, how widely will it be used, and is it what charities want?

Over and above all this, however, the election result is likely to give more confidence to those who would like charities to campaign less, to stay out of politics, to pay their senior staff less and to confine themselves to binding up the wounds of society rather than trying to change it. The lobbying act won’t be repealed: the Charity Commission’s review of CC9 – its guidance on political activity – is now more rather than less likely to be tightened. The commission’s proposal to require charities to declare in their annual returns what they spend on campaigning is more rather than less likely to happen. The pro-charity rhetoric will of course remain: in the Conservative Party there is widespread and genuine appreciation of and support for of the good that the sector does, and few want to be seen as anti-charity. But the wagging finger that has increasingly accompanied the rhetoric in recent years might start wagging rather harder now.

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