In the last year there has been an upsurge in campaigning against institutional and structural racism. We have seen the BLM movement gain enormous momentum and protests amongst the general public to speak out against racism have been prominent. Against this backdrop, charities have also been very much involved in anti-racist actions.
We have seen several charities acknowledging and addressing issues around institutional and structural racism, on a broader scale as well as within their own organisations. An example of this includes Barnardo’s blog on white privilege. Barnardo’s publicly recognises its’ “responsibility to raise awareness of all issues affecting children - no matter how difficult or uncomfortable”, in this case by providing a guide for parents on how to talk about white privilege – helping people understand what it means and encouraging anti-racist action and dialogue. Another example comes from Womankind Worldwide, who have acknowledged that the aid and development sector was founded in the context of colonisation.
Womankind Worldwide recognise the ongoing power imbalance and perpetuation of racial discrimination rooted in this and have therefore pledged their commitments to anti-racism. They outline many tangible commitments and aims, including actions around amplifying the voices of their partners in the Global South to shift power to them. Other organisations have also addressed historic links of their organisations to colonialism, slavery, and racial injustice – such as the National Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. And in the last few months, the racial justice think tank Runneymede Trust, as well as other charities and foundations, have been vocal against the Sewell Report by the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which claimed institutional racism does not exist in the UK.
Given these events, we were interested in finding out more about what MPs thought about charities addressing such issues. As part of our Charity Parliamentary Monitor March/April survey, we asked 101 backbench MPs how acceptable or unacceptable they found different charity actions. We found that 37% of Conservative MPs believe ‘a charity campaigning against the causes and effects of structural racism’ is definitely or somewhat unacceptable – compared to 8% of Labour MPs. Furthermore, around half (52%) of Conservative MPs said ‘a charity investigating and publishing a report on its historical links with slavery’ is definitely or somewhat unacceptable – compared to just 2% of Labour MPs. Conservative MPs are more likely to disagree with anti-racist action from charities and are less receptive to charities addressing structural racism, and their own historical links to it, than Labour MPs. This paints a similar picture to when we asked MPs about Black Lives Matter and found only 6% of Conservative MPs supported BLM, compared to 82% of Labour MPs.
MPs’ impressions on unacceptable actions for charities
“Please rate how acceptable or unacceptable you find each of the below actions.” Prompted question, Definitely unacceptable and somewhat unacceptable combined, ranked by Conservatives
Base: 57 Conservative and 31 Labour MPs among 101 MPs | Source: Charity Parliamentary Monitor, March/April 2021, nfpSynergy
Indeed, we have seen a number of incidents where a group of Conservative MPs have spoken out or made complaints against charities addressing or challenging racism. A group of Conservative MPs urged a formal review of the National Trust in response to the Trust’s report on the connection of their historical sites to colonialism and slavery. The MPs in question thought the report was ‘too political’ and even criticised the charity for ‘aligning itself with BLM’. Barnardo’s received significant disapproval for discussing white privilege, with several of the same Conservative MPs dismissing it as ‘ideological dogma’ and ‘divisive militancy’. And then when the Runneymede Trust, quite rightly, condemned the Sewell Report for claiming institutional racism doesn’t exist, 15 Conservative MPs urged the Charity Commission to investigate the charity for similar reasons (despite existing universal criticism of the report and a wealth of evidence contradicting its findings).
So, the results that we’re sharing from our most recent Charity Parliamentary Monitor survey may be no surprise. However, looking at the data, it seems the view that charities shouldn’t be addressing structural racism is shared by over 1/3 of Conservatives, and not just a select few. On the flip side we saw almost universal support from Labour MPs that charities should campaign against the causes and effects of structural racism, and 1/3 of Conservative MPs also said it was acceptable for charities to campaign on this. Given the government released a report that states structural racism doesn’t exist, perhaps for some Conservative MPs it is politically difficult to subsequently support charities in tackling this issue. Additionally, Conservatives are more likely to view this work as outside the remit of what charities should be doing. Throughout our research we have seen that Conservative and Labour MPs differ greatly in their opinions of the roles of charities, for example Conservative MPs find charity lobbying and campaigning in general less acceptable (as my colleague Heather recently touched on in this blog).
It’s encouraging to see that charities are becoming more aware of institutional and structural racism and are starting to take a stance on it in different ways. Doing so is crucial for charities to be accessible to all and to begin to address intersectional issues within their work and the sector. Nevertheless, charities will need to be prepared for potential backlash as a result of such actions. We have seen these issues to be divisive with the public as well – for example when Barnardo’s and the National Trust received hostile responses from supporters and members.
In our Charity Awareness Monitor with the general public, we found 50% think charities have a duty to address their connections to historic racism, whilst 30% are undecided and 21% disagree.1 So it’s a contentious issue that divides not just MPs, but the general public too. Therefore, as charities continue to address structural racism, and even examine links to historical racism within their own organisations, they should continue to expect this work to be met with strong support from some and derision from others.
1Source: Charity Awareness Monitor, March 21, nfpSynergy | Base: 1,000 adults 16+, Britain
For more information about the Charity Parliamentary Monitor and our research with MPs, please download the free briefing pack in the downloads button below and contact CPM@nfpsynergy.net
To hear more about the Charity Awareness Monitor and our research with the general public, please contact CAM@nfpsynergy.net