What do the party manifestos mean for charities and volunteering?

It’s manifesto week in the 2017 election, something that will come as a relief for those following campaigns religiously and starting to tire of repetitive slogans (however effective they may be).

It’s fair to say that if the manifestos published this week have a unifying theme, it’s that they all mention many challenges that charities are working to solve, but with limited reference to the organisations working on those solutions, and the conditions they work under.

We shouldn’t unduly worry about this lack of explicit reference to charities, some of which may be explained by the fact that charity involvement in service delivery is now an established part of the status quo rather than the sort of novel idea that parties like to include – historically charity policy has rarely if ever featured high in manifesto promises. And indeed the influence of individual charities and their campaigns can clearly be seen in areas such as homelessness, mental health and the environment.

It does suggest however, that one of NCVO’s main roles in the new parliament will be to make sure that politicians still see charities and volunteering as important partners in improving the way the country works.

Investing in charities

One of the ideas set out in NCVO’s manifesto is to support local communities for a generation to come using dormant assets. One idea that has emerged from the Conservative manifesto is to create a number of sovereign wealth funds – state-owned funds that use assets to generate investment income, to allow for long-term investment in British infrastructure and the economy, partly funded by dormant assets.

We think that focus on using dormant assets for long-term investment is right, but on the face of this proposal, it’s not clear whether money from dormant assets is still being pledged to good causes – that money needs to be held separately and transparently so we can see how it is being used. One way this intention could be achieved would be by using this money to endow community foundations, who with their ability to draw in private philanthropy could ensure a better rate of return to provide long-term support to communities. Alternatively to provide that oversight, a centrally-aggregated fund could be managed by community foundations.


NCVO’s manifesto also calls for the right of EU nationals to stay in the UK to be resolved without delay, and both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to unilaterally protect those rights, something that would be reassuring for many charities.

One of the main questions coming out of Brexit for charities is around the funding they receive from the EU and what might replace it. Labour would seek to remain in Horizon 2020 and any successor programmes, a welcome commitment for charities involved in research.

The Conservatives have said that once we leave they will create a new United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund, which will be ‘specifically designed to reduce inequalities between communities across our four nations’, using money that we currently contribute to European structural funds, including the European Social Fund, which many charities benefit from, another positive move.

Charity campaigning

The Labour manifesto contains a welcome reassertion of the right of charities to campaign, and judging by our inboxes there is still confusion around what charities can and can’t do in relation to the Lobbying Act, which Labour have, as in 2015, pledged to repeal.

Our view is that the best way to approach this is to adopt the sensible recommendations set out by Lord Hodgson last year. Repealing the Lobbying Act is a superficially attractive option and sounds straightforward, but the Act is part of a larger framework of electoral law including the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, so there needs to be a clear idea of how you would make the regulation of non-party campaigning work in its place.

The end of statutory volunteering leave?

One 2015 pledge that hasn’t made the cut is the Conservatives’ proposal for companies with 250 or more employees to provide three days volunteering leave for their staff. NCVO has argued that we need to make it easier for volunteers to give their time, and time off work is one way to do this, with lack of time still cited as the main barrier to volunteering in the recent NCVO Almanac.

So does this mean the policy is dead? Not necessarily – but the lack of a manifesto pledge means that if the Conservatives do retain power, there will be less pressure on them to take it forward. Though if you are an organisation that works with volunteers, Volunteers’ Week, which will be held in the week running up to the election, could be the perfect opportunity to talk to candidates about how the next government can support this work.

Whether your policies have been reflected in manifestos or not, all of the parties have identified challenges that charities can solve, and the nature of manifestos often means there are gaps left to be filled in. Government and opposition parties will still be very keen to have charities’ input following the election.

At NCVO we think our five ideas for supporting the contribution of charities and volunteers could make a real difference, and we will be continuing to make sure they inform our engagement with candidates, parties and government long after polling day.

We’ll be assessing what the post-election campaigning landscape will look like at our annual campaigning conference, looking at issues including how to influence Brexit, how to frame your message in a ‘post-truth’ environment, and what campaigners need to know about volunteer management.

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Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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