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In defence of Lobbying

News and comment

Lobbying is a dirty word for many. One that conjures up smoke filled rooms, and cash filled envelopes. One that evokes the malevolent spectres of bias, greed and manipulation. Spin. The dark arts.

And fair enough, in many ways. A string of high profile ‘scandals’ and media stings over the years has given rise to the impression that access is regularly paid for. When I first started work in the late ’90s, I’d proudly tell my friends I was a lobbyist. By the turn of the century, we were all public affairs professionals, policy advisers and communications consultants.

But this suspicion of lobbying and campaigning is impacting on the work of charities and their ability to speak up for those they represent. Together with the Lobbying Act, which was introduced in 2014, how charities campaign and seek to influence the direction of policy making has changed.

Suspicion of lobbying and campaigning is impacting on the work of charities to speak up for those they represent.

A concerning report by the Shelia McKechnie Foundation last year found that 51% of charities surveyed said the Lobbying Act has affected their ability to achieve their organisational mission or vision, and this is especially true for charities working on politically sensitive or controversial issues, like welfare, disability, and immigration. It led the Foundation’s Chief Executive Sue Tibballs to conclude, “The result is more cautious, less responsive campaigning, and those who lose out are the people directly affected by the issues. It is their voices, ultimately, that are being silenced”.

And yet, over the last couple of years, the lobbying and advocacy of Together for Short Lives has helped bring about real policy change to improve the lives of children with life-limiting illnesses and those who support them.

  • Our campaign to scrap the benefit bar on seriously ill children under the age of three led to a pilot scheme being set up to test mobility support for families that need it.
  • We have played a leading role in the National Bereavement Alliance’s successful lobby to introduce paid statutory bereavement leave for parents who have lost a child, introduced into law last year.
  • And more recently our #fundnotfail campaign for more investment and accountability in commissioning children’s palliative care, coupled with our close work with an all-party parliamentary group of MPs and Lords, has led to children’s palliative care being included in the NHS Long Term Plan, published last week, along with a commitment to increase NHS England’s children’s hospice funding from £11 million to £25 million over the next five years.

The last of these in particular is a major step forward – not only the commitment of significant new funding, but the inclusion of children with life-limiting illness, relatively small in number in population terms, as a priority for the NHS.

While there is a lot to be worked out on the detail to translate commitments on a page into change on the ground, it shows the impact that campaigning on policy issues is real and potentially powerful. I am enormously proud of these achievements and the lobbying work of the Together for Short Lives policy team that brought them about – so I make no apology for seeing advocacy as a crucial part of what we do to try and change lives for the better.

I make no apology for seeing advocacy as a crucial part of what we do to try and change lives for the better

And so, as a wider charity sector, we must resist the suspicion of lobbying activity, and be bold in continuing to advocate for those who need it most. We have an obligation to our beneficiaries to improve the quality of their lives. Which must include trying to shape the society in which they live and the policies that govern it. Political and policy influencing is part of the DNA of our voluntary sector, and the public agrees – according to NfP Synergy’s survey in 2016, 68% of the public felt it was acceptable for charities to challenge government policy. And only 8% thought it unacceptable.

I left the corporate public affairs world nearly 20 years ago to work in the voluntary sector. I did so because I wanted to see campaigns through to their conclusion, to see and feel the benefit that influencing policy can have on people’s lives. And, while there is sometimes poor practice, at its best, lobbying by charities can help the improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society, who on their own might never be heard. A loudhailer which brings together and amplifies their voices for those with the power to improve their lives through public policy.

I for one will continue to advocate for children with life-limiting illness, their families and the services and professionals that support

My name is Andy and I’m a charity lobbyist. And proud of it.

Andy Fletcher is Chief Executive of Together for Short Lives.

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