MPs’ confidence in the regulation of the charity sector is decreasing and growing numbers of them think charities are too political, according to research from charity research consultancy nfpSynergy.
The research, which consisted of a survey of 150 MPs carried out by ComRes in June and July, found that the proportion of MPs who think that charities are well regulated has fallen by a third, from 61 per cent to 41 per cent over the past year.
The proportion who think that some charities are too political has also risen in this time, from 56 per cent to 63 per cent.
However, the percentage of Conservative MPs who think it is important for charities to have a voice in parliament has also risen, from 56 per cent in 2015 to 71 per cent. The percentage of MPs from all parties who think this remained broadly static at around 70 per cent.
Commenting on the research, Joe Saxton, co-founder of nfpSynergy, said that MPs’ dwindling confidence in charity regulation showed that the sector had a job to do to remind politicians that charities were more tightly regulated than companies.
He said it was particularly Conservative politicians who thought some charities were getting too political – 92 per cent of Tory MPs thought this compared with 29 per cent of Labour MPs – and that this sentiment had been growing since 2010, influenced in part by events such as Oxfam’s anti-austerity tweet in 2014.
Saxton acknowledged that it seemed contradictory that Conservative politicians increasingly view charities as too political but also increasingly think it is important for charities to have a voice in parliament, saying it showed that charities needed to use their "campaigning capital" with great care.
"That’s not to say you don’t campaign but if you know you’re talking to a government which is not particularly in favour of campaigning, you need to make sure you think carefully about what you are saying and use arguments that will resonate with your audience," he said.
Separate research from nfpSynergy also found that Conservative MPs are by far the least likely to believe that party conferences are the best time and place to meet charities.
According to a previously unreleased survey of 150 MPs carried out in November and December 2015, only 17 per cent of Tory MPs agreed that their party conference was the best place to meet charities, compared with 27 per cent of Labour MPs and 68 per cent of Liberal Democrat MPs.
Half of Conservative MPs (50 per cent) and 45 per cent of Labour MPs also said they regarded party conferences as less important than they used to be, while 45 per cent of Conservative MPs and 36 per cent of Labour MPs did not attend their party’s conference in 2015.
When asked which charities had impressed them at party conferences and why, 9 per cent of MPs surveyed spontaneously mentioned the sight-loss charity Guide Dogs, praising the creativity and interactivity of its stand in the conference exhibition hall, which typically features a guide dog.
For more on the usefulness of party conferences to charities, see the November/December edition of Third Sector magazine, or click here.