Engage with the sector, charities tell Boris Johnson

Umbrella bodies say charities could help to unite a country divided by Brexit if the new Prime Minister is willing to work with them

Boris Johnson will become Prime Minister tomorrow (Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson will become Prime Minister tomorrow (Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Charity sector leaders have urged the future Prime Minister to focus on unifying the country, after Boris Johnson was named the new leader of the Conservative Party.

Johnson won the Conservative Party election today, gaining two-thirds of the vote against his rival Jeremy Hunt, and will become Prime Minister tomorrow when Theresa May resigns.

His election was met with calls from the charity sector to focus on unifying the country after the divisive 2016 EU referendum and to engage with the sector to bridge divides within and between communities.

Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said Johnson was becoming Prime Minister at a time when many people felt unrepresented by government.

"Brexit has been politically all-encompassing, but that has not led to clarity or certainty," Browning said. "Simultaneously, the domestic agenda has stalled and political rhetoric is increasingly divisive.

"Boris Johnson has been at the centre of the Conservative Party throughout this period and needs to demonstrate that he can tackle these issues both urgently and considerately."

She continued: "Civil society leaders will work with the new Prime Minister and government to build stronger communities and a fairer society. Part of this will involve holding the Prime Minister and government to account on behalf of the people and causes we both serve. We hope to build an honest, open and productive relationship between the new government and the social sector."

Jay Kennedy, director of policy and research at the Directory of Social Change, warned that a no-deal Brexit, which Johnson has repeatedly said is a possibility, would cause huge damage across the country.

"The chances of a no-deal Brexit must now be spiking, which risks putting vulnerable people and social programmes under even more pressure," Kennedy said.

"The charity sector is keeping this country afloat, but Boris Johnson’s record on the sector doesn’t inspire confidence – his main achievement so far in this respect seems to be engineering the Garden Bridge Trust debacle."

Kennedy also called for Johnson to engage with the sector.

"Our sector simply cannot give up," he said. "Outside the Westminster bubble there are multiple crises receiving no political attention or commitment: social care, climate change, homelessness, food poverty, domestic and sexual abuse, the list goes on.

"Prime Minister Johnson needs to start listening to us – right now. Not in a few months or next year – now."

Roberta Fusco, director of policy and engagement at the Charity Finance Group, said that, although charities "won't be top of the new PM’s in-tray", tackling welfare and the funding of local government should be prioritised.

"Mr Johnson and his new Chancellor face an enormous task to unite an increasingly divided society and deliver economic stability as we head ever closer to the dire economic and social consequences of a no-deal Brexit," she said.

"There are uncharted waters ahead, which will not only need strong leadership from the start but also a strong future relationship with the voluntary sector to help mend the tears in our social fabric."

Rhodri Davies, head of policy at the Charities Aid Foundation, said he hoped Johnson would put civil society’s values at the heart of his new government and the sector could help bring people together.

"Amid polarisation and division, charities bring people together, provide essential services and make a meaningful contribution to the UK’s economy," Davies said. "Collectively, they can offer a bold vision for a better society and they deserve a powerful voice at the heart of government.

"The UK’s rich history of support for our vibrant and independent civil society – and our strong commitment to principles of international aid – should be seen as a key part of our national identity and the soft power we can wield on the global stage. We hope that the new Prime Minister recognises this and puts these values at the heart of his vision for Britain post-Brexit."

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