In March and April of this year we ran one of our quarterly waves of Charity Parliamentary Monitor research with a representative sample of 100 MPs. We asked them about the charity sectors response to Covid-19 and what they believe to be the top and high priority issues for the charity sector going forward. Here are the top four takeaways:
62% of MPs couldn’t name a charity working on Covid-19
This is a similar level to when we last asked it in Nov-Jan 21 (67%). The high levels of MPs who could not name a charity working in this area suggests that charities have not been as visible in responding to the Covid-19 crisis. This is not just unique to MPs, other groups such as the general public and journalists also struggle to name organisations responding to Covid-19. The NHS was the organisation most associated with working in this area with 7% of MPs naming them. We also saw local groups being named by MPs who recalled the response of mutual aid funds and local community groups to the pandemic.
However, this lack of visibility is a challenging finding for charities who will need to emphasise and communicate to their key audiences the important work they are doing supporting people.
Helping small charities thrive was seen as a top priority for all MPs
1/3 of MPs (33%) said that helping small charities thrive was the top priority for the charity sector going forward (out of a list of different options). Whilst we often see differences between Conservative and Labour MPs opinions on charities, this was the top priority for both major parties (Conservative MPs 32% and Labour MPs 33%). This demonstrated that MPs recognise the important role small charities play in society which was especially highlighted during the pandemic. It also suggests MPs are aware of the impact that the pandemic has had on small charities. In our recent report on the impact of Covid on charities we found that small charities have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic.
Chart 1: MPs’ Top priority and high priority issues for the charity sector
“In your opinion, which of the following issues related to charities need to be prioritised next? Please select those you consider high priority issues, and your top priority. If you do not believe any of these issues should be prioritised, please leave blank.” Prompted question, ranked by Top priority
Base: 101 MPs | Source: Charity Parliamentary Monitor, March/April 2021, nfpSynergy
Funding for charities was also seen as a key priority
15% of MPs chose finding more funding sources as a top priority for the sector. Again, there was cross party consensus that finding more funding sources was a top priority for the charity sector with 14% of Conservatives and 19% of Labour MPs choosing this option. Whilst MPs also chose this as one of the top two priorities for the sector in 2017, the shadow of the pandemic on charity finances has made this a particularly pressing issue. Charity finances have been massively impacted in the last 18 months including through cancelled fundraising events and more demands on services. Our research with the general public has also shown that donations to charities have gone down.
It’s encouraging to see that MPs recognise funding as a key issue for the sector. However, a recent report from the Public Accounts Committee found that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport “cannot yet demonstrate that it understands the financial health and resilience of the charity sector.” This suggests that there is further still to go in assessing and responding to the impact on charity finances.
Chart 2: Conservative and Labour MPs’ Top priority issues for the charity sector
“Which one of these do you consider your top priority issue?” Prompted question, ranked by Conservatives
Base: 57 Conservative and 31 Labour MPs among 101 MPs | Source: Charity Parliamentary Monitor, March/April 2021, nfpSynergy
Conservative MPs are more likely to say that preventing charities from lobbying is a high priority
One area where we saw more of a party difference was around charities lobbying. A minority of Conservative MPs (18%) said this was a high priority for the sector, whereas no Labour MPs said this. However, the number of Conservative MPs who said this was a priority has gone down since 2017. This is perhaps due to other issues, such as helping smaller charities, being seen as more pressing for the sector at the moment. From our other research we can see that Conservatives generally find charity lobbying and campaigning less acceptable – although they are open to hearing about the impact of policies on charities beneficiaries. How charities approach and frame issues with Conservative MPs will be important for how those messages are received.