Nearly three-quarters of local charities avoid politics, survey finds

15 Feb 2023 News

Almost three-quarters of local charities do not engage in political debates, according to new research.

The latest Third Sector Trends report, published today, found that voluntary organisations based in poorer areas were more likely to engage in local lobbying while larger organisations said they did so more than smaller ones.

It also found that most voluntary organisations were engaged in informal relationships with other voluntary group, while a third of larger organisations thought their statutory funding would increase.


Third Sector Trends received 6,070 responses from voluntary organisations in 2022, around 65% of which were charities, while others included Community Interest Company's and faith organisations.There were an average of 600 in each region across England and Wales.

Findings showed almost three-quarters of charity respondents said they steer clear of local political issues, at 74%. 

Moreover, only 9% of voluntary organisations more broadly are strongly committed to engaging in debates about local social and public policy. 

About 71% of organisations participate in formal consultations regarding local social and public policy while 47% said they campaign to influence local policy. A third of voluntary organisations said they delegated this to local infrastructure organisations. 

Larger voluntary organisations were more likely to engage with local social and public policy “but this does not indicate that the voices of smaller organisations are under-represented in local policy debates,” the report said. “This is because there are many more smaller organisations than larger ones.”

Those based in the poorest areas were more likely to engage in all aspects of influencing than organisations in the wealthiest areas and newer organisations are also more likely to lobby than older ones.

Report author Tony Chapman of Durham University said: “Becoming agitated about illegitimate political activities of charities, like as not, reveals as much about the government’s political insecurities as it does about the sector itself: not least because the enormous range of political opinion and activity within the third sector is so complex that it defies meaningful categorisation.

“The third sector is full of strong-willed people, who are committed to the causes that they pursue. And rarely is the sector shy of raising its objections when injustices are thought to have been committed.

“Surely, sustaining productive relationships between government and the third sector is much more important to ministers when trying to achieve national, regional and local objectives than fussing about tweets.”

Local government funding

The report states though austerity policy has decimated many local authority budgets, the majority of third sector organisations have “consistently felt that their work is valued and well supported by local public sector organisations”.

Moreover, they are now more likely to feel that local public sector organisations keep them informed about issues affecting them than in 2010 (rising from 62% in 2010 to 72% in 2022).

Nearly a third of the biggest third sector organisations remain optimistic that statutory funding will increase, while 25% of big organisations expect it to decline.

The report adds “smaller organisations are much more pessimistic” with 67% of micro organisations expecting public sector income to fall and only 6% thinking it will rise.

Current expectations about levels of statutory funding are, however, more optimistic than was the case in 2013, 2016 and 2019.


It found 73% of third sector organisations are currently engaged in informal relationships with other voluntary organisations and groups, while another 9% would like to work this way.

Moreover, 65% of organisations work closely but only semi-formally with other third sector organisations.

A third work in formal partnership arrangements and another fifth are interested in doing so, while 47% of the sector is disinterested in formal partnership working.

The report reads: “The coronavirus pandemic has not undermined sector commitment to partnership working.”

Nonetheless, it states informal and complementary approaches to partnership working have declined a little since 2019 because many micro and small third sector organisations were less active or hibernating.

The research project was funded in 2022 by Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, Power to Change, Barrow Cadbury Trust and Millfield House Foundation.

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