Leaders from across the charity sector have joined forces to call on the next government to provide greater freedom for civil society advocacy and campaigning in the UK.
A letter has been sent to political leaders including Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson, Sian Berry, Jonathan Bartley, Adam Price, Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage. It “calls on the next government to create an enabling environment for civil society advocacy and campaigning in the UK”.
Signatories include Bond, NCVO, Shelter, War on Want and the Small Charities Coalition.
The letter states that there have been increasing “restrictions placed on the ability of civil society groups to speak out” against policies that could impact vulnerable people both in the UK and around the world.
It says the UK has joined a list of 12 European countries in which civic space is now rated as “narrowed”.
“It is essential that this freedom to campaign is restored. The UK can only be a beacon to the rest of the world if it respects civil society’s right (and sometimes duty) to campaign,” reads the letter.
It adds: “Civil society and charity campaigning is central to our democracy, amplifying the voices of those who are marginalised and holding the powerful to account. It has been the driving force behind many of our great social reforms, both here in the UK and overseas.”
The letter cites changes to the Lobbying Act, the introduction of anti-advocacy clauses and decisions on guidance by the Charity Commission as contributing to “the creation of a climate where civil society organisations are reluctant to become involved in public debate”.
It calls on future government to revise the Lobbying Act along the lines proposed by Lord Hodgson, ensure that all departments engage with and involve civil society organisations throughout the policymaking process, ensure the Charity Commission and the Electoral Commission are working to enable a regulatory environment which supports the rights of the sector to campaign, and commit to uphold the right to protest.
‘Deterring civil society campaigning is short-sighted'
Stephanie Draper, Bond chief executive said: “Civil society organisations play a critical role in ensuring the voices of the most vulnerable people are heard by policy-makers. However, it is getting harder and harder for these organisations to perform this function which means policies are at times being made with little representation from the people most affected.
“How can we call others out for suppressing the voices of civil society elsewhere when we are doing the very same thing at home?”
Paul Parker, recording clerk of Quakers in Britain, said: “Civil society must continue to speak truth to power. Deterring civil society campaigning is short-sighted, and risks missing insights vital to policy change.
“At election time it is vital that politicians don’t cover their ears, but listen to charities, faith groups and civil society organisations working with the most vulnerable.”
The full list of signatories is as follows:
- Barrow Cadbury Trust
- Citizens UK
- End Violence Against Women Coalition
- Friends of the Earth
- Howard League
- Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales
- Quakers in Britain
- Race on the Agenda (ROTA)
- Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK)
- Unlock Democracy
- War on Want
- Small Charities Coalition