The power of third sector free speech: an analysis of sector campaigning by mission

From Oxfam’s Perfect Storm to the Prince’s Trust ‘Together we Can’ advert, the third sector gives voice to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society. ACEVO campaigns for its right to do so. We’ve bought together some election issues that have been foregrounded by charity campaigning and community action.

Mental Health

Campaigners have shone a light on mental health as a key election issue, highlighting the damaging effects of social care cuts. Last summer, leading mental health charities joined forces with the Mental Health Network and Royal College of Psychiatrists to launch ‘A Manifesto for Better Mental Health.’ It calls on all parties to make mental health a priority and tackle stigma associated with it.

There is a rainbow agreement around parity of esteem for mental and physical health, a trail blazed by the Lib Dems who have committed to extra investment including £250 million a year for Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services. The Lib Dems and Greens name check the Time to Change campaign in their manifestos, an anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. YoungMinds has also launched the #KEEPYOURWORD campaign for people to call on parliamentary candidates to keep their word on mental health after 7th May.

Gender Equality

Mental health campaigners have tied their lobbying to the wider health and economy election battlegrounds. A Fair Deal for Women does the same for Gender Equality. It argues that women have been disproportionately affected by austerity and highlights the financial insecurity many women face by working in low paid and insecure work.

There is a significant groundswell of campaigning for gender equality. The Everyday Sexism Project was established in 2012 and the NUS has led an consistent attack on ‘lad culture’ in universities. Just this week, a demonstration has been called in response to the ‘Beach Body Ready’ advert doing the rounds on London’s tube network.

Homelessness and Housing

Homeless Link’s manifesto emphasises the importance of a national strategy for alleviating homelessness and rough sleeping. It argues that while governments have had these in place, cuts and disinvestment in local homelessness services has been damaging.

Last year, the New Era Estate in Hoxton undertook high profile protests, aided by Russell Brand, around a proposed hike in rents from its American property developer owner. In December, it was confirmed that it would be sold to an affordable housing group Dolphin Living, owned by the Dolphin Square Charitable Foundation. Last month, more than 2300 protesters gathered under the Homes for Britain campaign, which is calling on politicians to end the housing crisis within a generation.

Labour is committed to tackling the causes of homelessness and rough sleeping. The Greens are most explicit, committing to end the practice of declaring people ‘intentionally homeless’ with the aim of ending rough sleeping. Of course the main response to this issue has been housing; the Tories’ extension of the Right to Buy scheme to housing associations has sent it spinning into the foreground. This week, Just Fair, a consortium of leading housing charities, has released a report arguing that the UK is in breach of its human rights commitment to provide people with adequate homes due to a severe housing crisis – soaring rents and rising homelessness. Labour has come out on the side of private renters, and all parties talk about building more homes. Time will tell if they can satisfy campaigners’ demands.


At the Lib Dems’ Spring Conference the Campaign to Protect Rural England joined forces with Civic Voice and the National Association of Local Councils to call on all political parties to make a manifesto commitment to a ‘Community Right of Appeal.’ This would apply in areas where a development is non-compliant with a neighbourhood plan or local plan. The Lib Dems and Greens have duly committed. The Tories are looking to strengthen the Community Right to Bid and Labour has gone with new powers for communities to shape their high streets.

This speaks to the wider debate about building sustainable communities. The Social Economy Alliance is made up of over 700 organisations including social enterprises, co-operatives, housing associations and charities. It campaigns for a more social economy in the UK, which better supports people and communities. This pervades the economy, employment and pubic services. ACEVO spotted the Easter resurrection of the Big Society, for 2 pages, in the Conservative manifesto, and Labour’s manifesto is specifically committed to developing the ‘social economy’ with a British Investment Bank.

Third Sector Independence

The campaigns, advocacy and policy work of the third sector has proven itself a loud voice this election. We have driven issues into the spotlight and called politicians to account on their ever growing lists of promise. It would be remiss to leave out ACEVO’s manifesto for 2015 – Free Society – which calls on government to protect the free speech of the third sector explicitly in law.

Unsurprisingly only Labour and the Greens have committed to repealing the Lobbying Act, passed during this government. We call on the political parties to work harder to respect, restore and unleash the great potential  of the third sector which, as these campaigns and advocacy demonstrate, are imperative to driving forward key debates the year round, be there election or no.

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