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What do the pre-election priorities of the Labour and Conservative Parties mean for charities?

By Ben Kili 1 June 2023 5 minute read

With a general election likely to be called next year, the political parties are starting to develop the priorities and headline policies for their manifestos. We’ve been reviewing the announcements made to date by Labour and the Conservatives, the two parties most likely to lead the next government. And although the charity sector may not be at the top of their lists, the work of charities in different sectors is relevant to making those priorities a reality.  

Clear priorities from Labour 

At the time of writing, Labour are favoured by most of the polls to win the next election, so it’s likely that charities will be more interested in influencing their plans than in previous years. In January, Labour announced their five missions, which Sir Keir Starmer said would form ‘the backbone of the Labour manifesto and the pillars of the next Labour government’.  

The missions focus on: 

  1. Securing the ‘highest sustained growth’ in the G7 group of rich nations by the end of Labour’s first term 
  2. Making Britain a ‘clean energy superpower’, removing fossil fuels from all of Britain’s electricity generation by 2030 
  3. Improving the NHS 
  4. Reforming the justice system 
  5. Raising education standards 

There are some obvious areas where charities can contribute towards achieving these missions, and Labour suggest a couple of starting points in their health and crime mission briefings. For example, in relation to the first mission, which is focussed on sustained economic growth, our recent report on Levelling Up showcased a positive correlation between charities improving people’s health and education, and economic growth in deprived areas. However, the report also highlighted how charities and government need to better measure and evaluate the impact of their activities on health, education and economic outcomes. 

Environmental charities will be happy to see Labour’s second mission, which focuses on making Britain a clean superpower. This mission is supported by one of Labour’s most radical ideas the Climate Investment Pledge, made in 2021, which is worth a total of £224bn. As part of the pledge, the party has committed to spending £28bn on green capital investment annually until 2030. This will be relevant to the wider social sector, outside of the ‘green bubble’, as it could create new jobs and reduce the unequal impact of the climate and nature crises on low-income young people and people from ethnic minority communities. 

And on the fourth mission, which is focused on reforming the criminal justice system, our report from 2021 ‘mapping of the criminal justice system‘ highlighted the role of charities in campaigning for reforms, as well as providing frontline services to reduce reoffending. The practical experience of such charities will be invaluable in designing programmes that create real reform. 

In addition to the five missions, Labour has also made announcements in their ‘Commission for the UK’s future’ around devolution. However, it remains to be seen just how much the third sector will be involved in delivering these changes, without concerted evidence to show its relevance and importance. 

Less clarity from the Conservatives 

The Conservatives have chosen to concentrate on setting out short-term priorities, instead of the long-term priorities which would lay the ground for the next election. Rishi Sunak’s five pledges given at the start of the year, have prioritised short-term economic recovery rather than setting out grander visions for long-term prosperity.  

These include:  

  1. Halving inflation to ease the cost-of-living crisis 
  2. Growing the economy to create better paid jobs 
  3. Reducing debt  
  4. Cutting NHS waiting lists 
  5. Stopping small boats from entering the country illegally  

Like Labour, the Conservatives have earmarked economic growth and improving the NHS as priorities, though their stance on migration is markedly different. Charity involvement in these priorities are more likely to be in relation to crime, childcare and education.  

Another indicator of the government’s focus on short-term results has been the relegation of the Levelling Up agenda since Boris Johnson’s resignation. Once a leading policy, it was omitted from Sunak’s five key priorities delivered in January. Although funding continues to be allocated, the choice to prioritise economic recovery over tackling regional inequality could be a sign not to expect grand visions from the Conservatives until after the election.  

Let’s not forget the other parties 

Of course, the other political parties could play a critical role in the next government. Notably, commentators are speculating that the Liberal Democrats may form part of a coalition with Labour. Charities will want to pay attention to their priorities as well, as the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010-2015 showed the sway of a smaller coalition partner on policies. 

What next for charities and policy development ahead of the elections? 

We haven’t seen any signs yet of either political party focusing policies specifically on the charity sector. Individual charities, charities within the same sub-sector and the sector as a whole will therefore need to focus on showing how they are relevant to the parties’ goals, and how they can help deliver the programme of government that will take shape after the next general election.   

Many larger charities will already be developing contacts within the parties, and identifying where they can collaborate on advocacy within and across sectors. The series of events being run by NCVO and ACEVO to create a manifesto for the charity sector is a great example. 

A 2024 general election may seem a long way off, but with the Labour national policy forum already drafting policy proposals, charities will need to move fast if they want to influence the policies of the next government, whichever political party forms it. 


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