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General election 2024: what do manifestos offer for the voluntary sector?

27 June 2024

We’ve trawled the manifestos of the three main parties so you don’t have to, and look at what promises might affect the voluntary sector.

What will be the impact of the election be on the voluntary sector?

At the time of writing this article, the outcome of the election on 4 July is unknown. Current polling data favours a potential Labour government, but charities and not-for-profit organisations should consider the pledges and policy directions of each of the main political parties when anticipating future impacts on the sector.

We have reviewed the manifestos of the three main political parties and pulled out some of the key areas which will affect those working in the voluntary sector.

Labour

The Labour party states that, if elected, it aims to foster a collaborative relationship with civil society. Shadow Minister Lillian Greenwood, speaking at an online election hustings on 19 June hosted by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, emphasised Labour’s intent to collaborate in “structural ways” with these groups. She said Labour’s “first and foremost” mission is to address economic growth and the cost-of-living-crisis which she said will in turn benefit the voluntary sector.

Although the manifesto makes little explicit reference to charities and voluntary organisations, there are several commitments which would inevitably have an impact on the sector. These include the following:

• Ending the VAT exemption for private schools, many of which are registered charities. Currently, independent schools benefit from a VAT exemption on their fees for the supply of education. While Labour does not propose removing their charitable status, the removal of this VAT exemption could have significant financial implications for these schools and parents who send their children to these schools.

• Environmental measures: as well as the much-vaunted policies on green energy, Labour has promised £1 billion to accelerate the deployment of carbon capture, and £6.6 billion to improve the energy efficiency of homes, both of which should be good news for environmental charities working in this area. The promised creation of nine new National River Walks and three new National Forests will undoubtedly require input from civil society organisations. The manifesto also includes policies on tackling water pollution and promoting biodiversity, although further details are lacking.

• Housing: charities and voluntary organisations could play a role in fulfilling Labour’s commitment to building 1.5 million new homes over the next Parliament. This is an enormous number, far exceeding the number of new homes built over the last few decades, so it remains to be seen how realistic it is.

• Co-operative and mutuals sector: Labour has promised to double the size of this sector, which includes many not-for-profit and voluntary organisations. There is little detail on what this means – whether this will be measured by number of organisations or some economic measure – but this commitment gives us some hope that Labour will be committed to a comprehensive review of co-operative and mutual legislation, currently being undertaken by the Law Commission. We would assume that growth in this sector will tie in with the promised expansion of local renewable energy initiatives, much of which are delivered by community organisations and co-operatives, but the legal framework needs strengthening to help realise this vision.

• Business rates: a promise to replace the business rates system fails to mention whether the current exemption for charities will continue. We would welcome a commitment from Labour to continue with this exemption and consider extending it to other forms of not-for-profit organisations such as CICs and community benefit societies.

• Childcare: the promised expansion of childcare and steps to reduce child poverty and tackle young people’s mental health will inevitably require support from civil society. Exactly what this looks like remains to be seen.

• Cultural sector: the Labour manifesto expresses commitments to music, art and sport, promising to increase access for young people, introduce consumer protections on ticket reselling and require publicly funded national museums and galleries to increase the loans they made from their collections across the country.

• Social care: the promised creation of a National Care Service is likely to affect charitable care organisations, who will be involved at grassroots level in delivering care at ‘home first’. The introduction of a new set of national standards for care will inevitably put an additional regulatory burden on these organisations.

Conservatives

Like Labour, the Conservatives say that they will seek to work closely with civil society to encourage philanthropy. Stuart Andrew, the Minister for Civil Society, has indicated his desire to improve engagement with the sector at an election hustings on 19 June, stating that he initiated some work just before the election to enhance meaningful engagement with civil society and aims to continue this if re-elected.

Although the Conservative manifesto lacks a clear vision for the voluntary sector, several policies are likely to impact charities and voluntary organisations directly or indirectly:

• Gift Aid: The Conservative Party promises a comprehensive review of Gift Aid during the next parliament. Gift Aid, which allows charities to claim tax relief on donations, is a crucial source of additional funding for many charities. This review could potentially streamline the process for donors, releasing hundreds of millions of pounds more annually. The timescale for this review is vague, but it is likely to be welcomed by the sector due to its potential to bring significant benefits.

• Community and levelling up initiatives: the Conservative manifesto expresses a commitment to extending the Community Ownership Fund and the Shared Prosperity Fund for the next three years, using this to support the proposed National Service Scheme. These initiatives aim to support community groups in improving local areas. However, their long-term impact on the voluntary sector is questionable if little to no funding is provided for these schemes after the initial three-year funding period.

• Mental health support: the Conservatives pledge to dramatically expand mental health support, exploring whether treatment or services might be more appropriate than cash benefits. This expansion could increase the demand for mental health charities to provide support.

• Housing: The Conservatives have pledged to build 1.6 million homes and increase efforts to end rough sleeping through the Local Authority Housing Fund. This commitment may require significant assistance from homelessness charities and civil society more generally. As with Labour’s housing commitment, this is an enormous increase, so it remains to be seen how realistic this is.

• Environmental measures: The Conservative manifesto includes commitments to tackling climate change and achieving net zero by 2050. Plans include trebling offshore wind capacity, building the first two carbon capture storage clusters and investing £1.1 billion into the Green Industries Growth Accelerator. The Conservatives also promise to enhance nature protection by improving National Parks and protected landscapes and supporting community-led schemes like those near Hadrian’s Wall helping the area to recover from the vandalism at Sycamore Gap. The Conservatives aim to collaborate with landowners and charities to improve access to nature, particularly for disadvantaged children and young people. Environmental charities are likely to play a crucial role in these initiatives.

• Childcare: the Conservatives promise to expand childcare, providing 30 hours of free childcare weekly for children from nine months old to school age by September 2025 (to continue the expansion they have already begun). They also emphasise the need to improve child online safety and plan to mandate social media firms to protect children from harmful online content under the Online Safety Act. Specific details on implementation are lacking, but the charity sector will likely be called on to support these efforts.

• Aid spending: The Conservatives have also committed to restoring aid spending to 0.7% Gross National Income (GNI), something many aid charities have consistently called for. No concrete timeline has been provided.

• Protest powers: The manifesto includes a pledge to further strengthen police powers to prevent protests or marches that pose a risk of serious disorder.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats manifesto includes few direct references to the charity sector but there are still several policies for the voluntary sector to be alert to:

• Community and levelling up initiatives: the Liberal Democrats propose to create a joint council to oversee funding and “levelling up” initiatives across the UK. The council could influence the distribution of resources to community projects and charities, enhancing local development. Their commitments include extending community ownership of assets such as community centres, youth clubs, and cinemas, which could provide new opportunities for charities and community organisations involved in initiatives at a grassroots level. The party has also committed to enhancing powers over community assets and investing in leisure centres, swimming pools and community sports clubs, many of which rely on the voluntary sector for their operations.

• Social care: the Liberal Democrats manifesto pledges to introduce free personal care based on need, not ability to pay. They propose to increase Carer’s Allowance and to support unpaid carers, many of whom rely on voluntary sector services for additional assistance. This may take some of the pressure off the voluntary sector, although it is uncertain who the policy will apply to and if this will be fully achievable.

• Environmental measures: the Liberal Democrats have set an ambitious target of achieving net-zero by 2045. To ensure sustainability is prioritised at an economic level, they promise to appoint a Chief Secretary for Sustainability within the next Treasury and establish a new Net Zero Delivery Authority to coordinate actions across government departments. The authority will provide local councils with more resources for net-zero strategies. The party also commits to support the expansion of community and decentralised energy which may present significant opportunities for charities and community groups involved in renewable energy projects. Furthermore, the party pledges to end the “sewage scandal”, plant 60 million trees annually and pass a Clean Air Act, which offers environmental charities ample opportunity to leverage these policies to advocate for clear air, water and greener spaces and engage with conservation efforts.

• Housing: the Liberal Democrats have also laid out their plans to increase the building of new homes to 380,000 a year, including 150,000 social homes through new garden cities and community led-developments which could involve civil society and community-led housing initiatives.

• Protest laws: they have pledged to reverse the Conservatives’ “draconian” anti-protest laws for both peaceful assembly and public safety.

Comment

Regardless of the election outcome, the voluntary sector can expect varying degrees of engagement and support from the main political parties. Labour and the Conservatives both emphasise collaboration with civil society, though their specific policies and approaches are currently unclear. The Liberal Democrats, while less focused on direct charity policies, propose community-centric initiatives that may indirectly benefit the sector. Charities should stay informed about these developments to effectively navigate the post-election landscape.

This article summarises some of the changes to the charity sector that may come under a new government. Whatever the outcome of the election, if your organisation needs help and advice to meet new challenges, please do not hesitate to get in contact with the authors of this article or any members of our Charities and Social Economy team.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Laura MossDaniel LewisSusannah Hope or any member of our Charities and Social Economy team on 0113 244 6100.

You can also keep up to date by following Wrigleys Charities and Social Economy team on X.

The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature.  The law stated is correct at the date (stated above) this article was first posted to our website. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors.

 

 
 

 

 
 
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