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Anti-Advocacy Clause - Must speak up!

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  February 26, 2016 |

The Government’s Anti-Advocacy Clause – A worrying development


An anti-advocacy clause was quietly announced by DCLG earlier this month.  This clause specifically relates to Government grant agreements made with charities.  Whilst Leeds GATE does not currently receive funding directly from the UK Government, we feel it is important to explain this policy’s risks for the whole charity sector and indeed all the people who benefit from their work. 


Firstly, I would state that explanations and criticism of this clause have already been made far clearer and more detailed than I can hope to make.  I note in particular the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and their recent blog on this here

which is a great place to find out a bit more.  In a nutshell though what the Government is stating is that from May charities and other organisations will no longer be allowed to spend government grants on lobbying.  This is not a small change in policy and it strikes me again as incredible how much attention such a proposal has got.


If we are being generous to those writing the clause, the purported logic is that this grant money should be spent on the provision of services.  Whilst I agree that for most charities and non-profit organisations should and do focus on frontline work, it is not fair to conclude that wider strategic work, including lobbying, is not important or valuable for the people we support.  Worse, particularly given the tone and political context of the announcement, is that this clause is one which will gag necessary voices, whether intentionally or not.


Let us reflect on what we are talking about.  Charities ranging in size and theme, from the Motor Neurone Disease Association to Age UK and Shelter would not be able to run campaigns and speak up for their members as have they always done.  Many have quite rightly written to the Prime Minister about this - the list suggests both the level of opposition and indeed variation of groups who feel that they would be affected. 


From our own experience of advocacy work it is fair to say that lobbying is not a distraction from frontline work but rather complements this.  Its aim is not to make political points but to use well informed frontline experiences and research to help improve policy and avoid ideas which are perceived as harmful.  So yes SCOPE might speak out about say a disability benefit change which they judge might make life more difficult for their members.  This however is in no way an unacceptable deviation from the core aims of the organisation or provision of service. 


Again, Leeds GATE is not directly affected but that does not mean we should not speak out.  Indeed the very existence of this clause might prevent us from applying for Government grants in future and therefore unable to develop new projects.  We gratefully receive grants from the Irish Government but would seriously question this if similar lobbying restrictions were introduced as the UK is now doing; fortunately not the case.  Let us not finally forget that Gypsies and Traveller organisations like ourselves often have a pressing need to represent a lone voice against policies strongly detrimental to the community and the prospect of being gagged would be particularly serious.


Realistically it will be the established national charities who will be those to draw attention to the harm of this clause and have best chance in developing a critical mass of public opinion which would have any chance of seeing it overturned.  It is important for Leeds GATE to state opposition to the very principle of restricting advocacy.  The Gypsy and Traveller community too often have a need to speak out against Government policies and too often have a difficulty being heard.  Let’s hope things didn’t just get a little harder. 




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