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Will UKIP hurt charities?

By Sue Wixley 9 May 2014

If the pollsters are to be believed, UKIP will be getting out the Union Jack bunting later this month to celebrate a win (or close second) in the local and European elections. And this time next year, Nigel Farage might even be buying a round (or three) to celebrate sustained support for his party in the General Election.

But what does this mean for charities?

While newspaper columns and Twitter are alive with views on what the surge of UKIP says about Westminster politics and our society more widely, there’s been little discussion about the implications of such a shift for the voluntary sector.

A good starting point would be to understand how UKIP supporters feel about charities and what role they think they should play in our society.

NPC’s research a few months ago provides some insight. Mind the gap, based on polling conducted on behalf of NPC by Ipsos MORI, explores public attitudes about charities and involves a survey of a representative sample of more than 1,000 adults from across Great Britain. Among those surveyed, some 90 respondents said they planned to vote UKIP at the next General Election. This is a very small sample, so it doesn’t enable us to say anything definitive, but it does offer clues as to what potential UKIP supporters might be thinking about charities.

  • UKIP voters are particularly concerned about high executive pay in charities: 55% of UKIP supporters said this was something charities are doing wrong compared to an average of 42%. Indeed, more than one in five UKIP voters (22%) think charity chief execs should not be paid at all.
  • Spending too much overseas was the second highest concern for UKIP voters, who seem to prefer charities to focus on causes closer to home. 48% of UKIPers ranked it as a concern compared to 29% in the sample as a whole (and just 16% of Liberal Democrats). Indeed, UKIP campaigned with the Daily Mail to redirect British overseas aid towards helping people affected by the flooding earlier this year.
  • In terms of the role of charities, UKIP voters were broadly aligned with other voters in believing that charities should focus on helping communities and raising money for good causes. There appears to be a tendency for more UKIP voters to think that the role of charities should be more about encouraging people to volunteer and less about raising awareness and lobbying government, but these differences were relatively minor and not statistically significant.
  • When it comes to paying attention to evidence that an organisation is having an impact, UKIP voters do not seem much less concerned than other groups of voters: with 43% of UKIP voters vs. 47% average saying they pay extremely close attention to impact.

While, we shouldn’t draw too many firm conclusions from this sample, the data suggests that charities could do well to explain why they pay their CEOs what they do, the benefits of working abroad, and why lobbying and awareness raising activities are useful. Many charities do, after all, count UKIP voters among their supporters, including their donor and volunteer base. And there has been considerable focus recently on the profile of UKIP supporters, which has identified a cohort of older, slightly poorer than average, typically male voters who ‘worry about the future and loathe the political class’.

In NPC’s opinion, greater levels of transparency and clarity on impact achieved are a good thing. As we argued in Mind the gap, if charities understand those who are sceptical, this would help to defuse future criticism and show that charities have nothing to hide. But apart from perhaps encouraging greater clarity, how would a good UKIP result affect charities? And how will the voluntary sector respond?

New mood music

It’s hard to predict how such a shift in political opinion might change the mood in this country, and the context in which charities operate more specifically. But at the very least, groups working on issues that butt up against UKIP policy—those supporting immigrant groups or asylum seekers for example—have reason to be nervous. As a union of students discovered last autumn, campaigning directly against UKIP breaches rules about political campaigning, so others will no doubt take heed.

Perhaps charities will find themselves being more cautious about speaking out and will start to pull their punches, in part, because of political campaigning rules. It’s also possible that criticism of charities during the lobbying bill debates earlier this year and uncertainty in advance of the General Election will have a stifling effect.

On the other hand, perhaps this shift in opinion will galvanise the sector into providing a bolder, more coordinated response.

What does the rise in UKIP mean for your charity?