19 November 2019

Leaders from across the charity sector are calling on the next government to provide greater freedom for civil society advocacy and campaigning in the UK.

Increasingly, restrictions have been placed on the ability of civil society groups to speak out against policies that could impact vulnerable people both here in the UK and around the world. 

Changes to the Lobbying Act, the introduction of anti-advocacy clauses and decisions on guidance by the Charity Commission have contributed to the creation of a climate where civil society organisations (CSOs) are reluctant to become involved in public debate. 

While many CSOs continue to campaign despite the restrictions, some have become increasingly cautious when it comes to raising their voice.

Despite the Government’s recent warm words about promoting democracy and civil society voices around the world, here in the UK we are seeing both go into decline. The UK has joined a list of 12 European countries in which civic space is now rated as ‘narrowed’. 

Stephanie Draper, Bond CEO 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? Any future government must take urgent steps to revise the Lobbying Act, ensure that all government departments work with civil society throughout the policy-making process, and remove any restrictions on challenging government policy publicly from grants and contracts.”

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.”

ENDS

Notes to Editor

  1. The letter from CSOs has been sent to the following political leaders Boris Jonson, Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson, Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley, Adam Price, Nicola Sturgeon, and Nigel Farage. 
  2. There are now 13 EU countries, including the UK, that are rated as having either narrowed or obstructed civic space according to People Power Under Attack by CIVICUS: https://www.civicus.org/documents/PeoplePowerUnderAttack.Report.27November.pdf
  3. Organisations are calling on the next government to: 
  • Significantly revise the Lobbying Act, along the lines proposed by Lord Hodgson in his Government-commissioned review of the legislation. 
  • Ensure that all departments engage with and involve CSOs throughout the policy-making process, listen to and value the insights that CSOs provide, and respect and support their right to speak out. 
  • Ensure that all government grants and contracts support the right of CSOs to speak out, and facilitate open and inclusive policy engagement, and remove restrictions on campaigning. 
  • Ensure the Charity Commission and Electoral Commission are working to enable a regulatory environment which supports the right of CSOs to campaign.
  • Commit to upholding the right to protest. 

3.    Organisations that have signed onto the letter to ministers include:
ACEVO
Bond
CharityComms
Citizens UK
End Violence Against Women Coalition
Friends of the Earth
Howard League 
Liberty
Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales
NCVO
Quakers in Britain
Race on the Agenda (ROTA)
Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK)
Shelter
Unlock Democracy
War on Want
Small Charities Coalition
Barrow Cadbury Trust 

4.    Bond is the UK network for organisations working in international development. Bond unites and supports a diverse network of over 400 civil society organisations and allies to help eradicate global poverty, inequality and injustice.
5.    For further information please contact Maryam Mohsin on 07555 336029 or [email protected]