Press release: New report on the independence of the voluntary sector

16 March 2016

Reducing policy influence and self-inflicted damage plunge charity sector independence to five year low, expert report warns

 Report urges charity sector unity and ‘self-examination’ by big names

A shift in the balance of influence over public policy and fresh controversies around charity behaviour have plunged the charity sector’s independence to a five year low, an expert report claims today.

The latest annual report from the think tank Civil Exchange warns that the independence of the charity sector is more vulnerable than ever to attack, with an outright ban on advocacy in all charity contracts just one among a raft of possible pending threats.

The report, Independence in Question, says the sector must urgently unite to re-establish the critical principle of its independence.

Civil Exchange director Caroline Slocock said:

We’ve been charting threats to the voluntary sector’s independence for five years. ‘Independence in Question’ shows how the cumulative impact of challenges over that period – and the rise of even more recent threats – leaves an unhealthy imbalance between community, private sector and state power and the sector in a critical position.

“More than ever, the voluntary sector must work together to develop a new and more self-confident narrative which stresses the distinctive qualities of an independent sector, challenges the status quo and shows how it can be even better at delivering its mission.

Independence in Question shows how new ‘no advocacy’ clauses in all taxpayer funded grants mark a key shift in the balance of voices shaping public policy, with charities being silenced but business apparently still free to directly influence senior levels of government.   The input of grass root and expert voluntary organisations ensures all voices in society can be heard, the report argues, and is especially important at a time of massive changes in services and benefits.

It also reveals how a recent wave of controversies around charity operations – including poor fund raising practices and the alleged selling of inappropriate commercial products – has left the rest of the sector more vulnerable than ever to attack and proves the need for some larger organisations to make sure they are being true to their independent, charitable purpose in everything they do.

Its analysis of current threats to the sector further highlights:

  • The Chancellor’s Tampon Tax Fund – diverting tax revenues to women’s causes – prevents women’s organisations from speaking out on government policy and politics and comes on top of similar gagging clauses in contracts for women’s and refugee services.
  • Part 2 of the so-called Lobbying Act ‘had a negative impact on charities and campaign groups speaking out on legitimate issues ahead of the election,’ according to the independent Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement and must be repealed.
  • The freedom of charities that receive government contracts is being hamstrung.
  • The estimated £4.6 billion funding gap for the voluntary sector, due to the loss of state funding, will hit the “eco system” of independent support for complex needs in communities particularly hard.
  • Government pressure on housing associations to make them sell off their assets by giving tenants a ‘right to buy’ was a threat to their independent purpose.
  • The Charity Commission appears at times to be following a politically-driven agenda that undermines its role as the protector of charity reputation and independence.

Ms Slocock said: ““What we are seeing is a worsening picture for many charities – one in which they play by new, draconian rules or face a crisis of funding that threatens their existence. If these threats go unchecked, the UK’s proud tradition of vibrant, independent charitable activity will be undermined and many communities disempowered as a result.

 “The sector must come together to defend its independence – or fall – and those organisations with practices that have been causing public concern must demonstrate that they are staying true to their independent, charitable mission.”


 Note to editors

  1. For media enquiries contact Jon Flinn at DHA on 0151 709 0505.
  2. This is the fifth of a series of annual health checks started by the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector and continued by the think tank, Civil Exchange, whose aim is to help government and the voluntary sector work better together. The new report also includes a number of case studies and think pieces written by sector leaders,  Haroun Atallah,  Geraldine Blake, Judy Robinson, Caroline Schwaller, Martin Sime, Karen Ingela Smith and Maurice Wren. The final report of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, An Independent Mission: the voluntary sector in 2015, which was published by Civil Exchange, can be found at
  3. Independence in Question is supported by the Baring and Lankelly Chase Foundations.