Written by Kylie Barton, Researcher, One Community.
The EU referendum is certainly the hot topic at the moment, with the question of whether we will be stronger in or out on everyone’s lips. As written by our Chief Exec Jean Roberts-Jones, One Community are politically neutral (as are many charities) but the case of Europe is something the third sector do need to think about whether that is overtly or covertly.
It is a funny one because this referendum has broken down conventional political party alliances, and forged some unlikely ones (David Cameron and the Greens are campaigning on the same side!). One half of the party in leadership is campaigning for and one against. So as this issue apparently transcending traditional politics – why can’t charities have a voice?
I am not the only one who has asked this question. Paul Gibson National Charity Specialist from auditing firm Mazars wrote on this very topic. He said any campaigning activity must be ‘proportionate to the importance of the issue to the charity’s work’. Some charities have chosen not to engage, but others with vested interests in the outcome are being very vocal. Friends of the Earth and the WWF for instance with their environmental remit have come out as part of the #StrongerIn campaign. Paul Gibson wrote:
Charity is a key part of civil society. The voice of charity needs to be heard, where applicable, on all the great issues of our time, including the question of the EU referendum. The beneficiaries of charity and the wider public deserve no less.”
The Charity Commission have kindly provided guidance on what charities can and can’t do when it comes to campaigning. Their first go at it was seen as far too restrictive, and so they withdrew the first draft and came up with a much more palatable guide. NCVO says that the guidance sets the wrong tone. Basically you can only campaign if it is part of furthering the charity’s objectives and in its best interests. Now there are many many things which will affect charities should we leave the EU, and so any charity wishing to campaign would be able to link one of these to its objectives.
So what are the concerns for charity?
The pro-EU campaign have been very vocal about the adverse effects leaving the EU could have on charities. It claims that charities could lose around £200m in funding should Brexit triumph. This was based on research that found almost 250 charities in the UK received funding from the EU in 2014 – and with continued austerity measures in Britain and increasing reliance on the voluntary sector there is no wonder this is a worry.
Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo, said in a statement:
British charities benefit hugely from our membership of the EU. Not only does it help us work with partners across the continent, fostering civil society, but some of Britain’s best-known charities receive significant funding to carry out their vital work.”
As well as funding, there are many unknowns for charities. Will we still be protected by the European Convention on Human Rights? Will our data be protected in the same way? There will be implications for health, crime, education, and housing – all areas of the law which affect those working in charities and those who use charities. I guess we will have to wait and see.