Charities need a reset with government

Westminster palace

Charities need a reset with government

How did the relationship between the government and charity sector reach such a low? And is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Tim Harrison-Byrne

Another week and another charity criticising government. On Tuesday, Mind tweeted:

“People don't choose to be on disability benefits. It's their last resort. Stop blaming people with mental health problems. If the Secretary of State wants a grown-up conversation about this, then he should meet with us. We've sent an invite.”

This follows on from Scope last week who called for people to sign a petition to demand that the government stops demonising disabled people. On Monday IPPR criticised government for its ‘shocking lack of progress’ on active travel figures. This follows tension and disagreement between government and charities on refugees, homelessness, inter-faith cohesion, conservation... the list goes on.  

The relationship between charities and government has broken down. At best, the Government no longer sees charities as positive stakeholders to be consulted ahead of key policy decisions. At worst charities are fair game in the culture war. This breakdown benefits no one and is incredibly frustrating. The third sector is an essential and positive contributor to government policy, and our research has consistently shown that MPs of all parties think that the sector is a force for good and value the evidence and case studies that charities provide them with.  

Charities do not take the decision of publicly criticising government lightly. For many it is a last resort. They know that the government dislikes negative publicity and it makes a future working relationship more difficult. But charities no longer feel they can effectively represent their beneficiaries through the usual channels of dialogue. And this is taking its toll on those trying to campaign and influence government. The results of latest SMK campaigner survey show that 75% of those surveyed have questioned whether they have the energy levels to keep campaigning.

I am also particularly interested in understanding how civil servants feel about their working relationship with the third sector. How has the poor relationship of the last few years changed the way they work with charities? We know procurement, contracts and consultations can be very painful. We plan to explore the civil servant element of the relationship in research later in the year – if you’re interested in shaping this or finding out more, please get in touch.  


The election can be the reset

Whoever wins the next election has to start working more constructively with charities. Keir Starmer defended the reputations and work of the National Trust and RNLI at the Civil Society Summit in January5. These are encouraging signs, but it is easier to work with the sector in opposition than in government. If Labour do win the election a true test will be when charities start to criticise their policies, as they inevitably will. Strong relationships can withstand differing views and continue to work well together. But whatever happens, we cannot continue with the status quo. 


To learn about our research with MPs, download more information below.

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