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Charity campaigners fear growing hostility from government

15 Jan 2021 News

Politicians have become more hostile to charity campaigning over the last twelve months, according to a survey conducted by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation.

The foundation accused politicians of trying to “slam shut the doors of Whitehall” against charities, after 90% of campaigners said they believed their right to criticise government policies was under threat.

A large majority of the campaigners surveyed also blamed negative media coverage for making lobbying harder.

The data is based on responses from 176 people working and volunteering at charities across the UK, collected in October and November 2020.

Political pressure and media coverage

Respondents were asked what factors they thought might threaten charity campaigning.

Just over three-quarters (77%) blamed conditions attached to funding which prevented them from speaking out, with the same proportion identifying “negative views” towards civil society campaigning among politicians.

While, 72% said that “negative media coverage of civil society” had affected the right to campaign.

However, six in 10 respondents suggested that the charity sector itself had to take some responsibility, agreeing that lobbying had been affected by the “failure [of] civil society to be confident and proud about its right to campaign”.

Changing attitudes

Asked how they thought charity campaigning was viewed by others, nearly two thirds of respondents – 63% – said that politicians had become more negative during the last year.

However, 54% said that the public had become more positive.

Around one in five thought that attitudes towards campaigning had got worse among public funding bodies, with one in ten saying the same about charitable foundations.

Criticised

In December the Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg, the Leader of the House of Commons, accused Unicef of “pulling a political stunt” over the charity’s decision to fund work with children in food poverty in the UK.

The National Trust has also been criticised in Parliament and some sections of the press for exploring the history of the estates it manages.

Both charities have robustly defended their decisions.

Sheila McKechnie Foundation boss: Time to end 'phoney cuture wars'

Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, said: “Ministers can try to slam shut the doors of Whitehall, but the pandemic has shown us all what happens when extra pressure is applied to inequality and injustice that has festered for decades. 

“The public saw that and responded to it by supporting vital campaigns in 2020.

“2021 will likely be even harder for many. Civil society will keep working to defend rights and build a better world out of the pandemic. 

"“It’s time for politicians to work with us, even where we don’t always agree, not make us fodder in phoney culture wars.”

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