Friday 18 March 2016

The Budget shows the Value of Charity Campaigning

How ironic that the Chancellor announces the sugar levy this week, which is the result of so much campaigning by charities, when his Cabinet Office colleague Matt Hancock wants to make it impossible for us to do that in the future. This is just one example of how the Budget today was not so much a case of jam today, but more of problems down the line.

Compared to four months ago, George cut a dejected figure at the despatch box. Economic forecasts do not look as good as he hoped. He has been left with no choice but to ask the Paymaster General to find a further £3.5 billion of efficiency savings. With government already cut to the quick, the brunt of these cuts will be left to fall on the moist vulnerable in society. And who will be left to pick up the pieces? As always, it will be our nations charities. In the Autumn, George gambled on strong economic forecasts to avoid austerity. Yesterday, that came back to bite him. While he was able to find tokens such as money to tackle homelessness, this was balanced out by severe cuts to disabled people. Ultimately, this was a budget which left our social fabric weakened.

It was also a budget which underlined the importance of charity voice. The sugar tax would never have happened were it not for the countless charities who have raised awareness of this issue. Even some of the charities which are to be in receipt of income from LIBOR fines and the tampon tax are known for their advocacy.

And not all of government would have the charity sector silenced. Yesterday, Lord Hodgson launched his last report into the impact of the Lobbying Act. This Act was a democratic car crash, and silenced too many charities around the most recent General Election. I am delighted that Lord Hodgson has recommended significant reform of the Lobbying Act. This will stop charities being subject to regulation on the appearance of their campaigns, and ensure that they are regulated on their intent. I still want to see the Lobbying Act repealed in its entirety, but these recommendations are a good first step.

In a week where the Government have taken on board the suggestions of charity voice, they should heed the lessons outlined by Lord Hodgson. We need his ideas implemented without delay, and without excuses. Otherwise, how can charities continue to contribute to the national debate, and form stronger policy?