As the nation heads out to vote and we eagerly await the results, many in the sector have already begun wondering what it will mean for them. The promises of politicians are fickle friends at the best of times, but looking at rhetoric and track records of the main political parties, we are hopeful that the election will result in continued support and development opportunities for charities and social enterprises.

After all, many social sector organisations have already weathered austerity, political uncertainty, and public sector reform, developing a keen sense of the external market and a thorough understanding of their beneficiaries. It is critical that this external awareness continues to be cultivated and developed over time, but also that government does its part to support the sector to become a key player in delivering social value.

Below, we have outlined some of the most important dimensions of change for charities to look out for in the aftermath of the election – and painted our own hopeful picture of what the future could hold when the new government forms.

1. The Lobbying Act

When the lobbying bill first emerged, the sector was horrified, arguing that provisions aimed at tackling back-door influences on our politics would actually silence the voices of legitimate grass-roots campaigners.

While the five major UK parties have all agreed that charities should be able to campaign to advance their causes, they disagree on the impact and future of the 2014 Lobbying Act. Many from within the Labour and Green parties have voiced criticism, seeking to abolish the act on the assumption that it frightened voluntary groups. The Liberal Democrats would like a review of the act in order to rebalance its effects in the right direction. The Conservatives, on the contrary, have maintained their support of the Act.

The act has undoubtedly brought numerous complications for third sector organisations seeking to campaign on behalf of their beneficiaries. However, it is also critical to have a legal framework that ensures parity in election campaigning, most importantly for non-party campaigners. Achieving the right balance will be key to ensuring a fair and equitable system where charities have room to work for the betterment of their beneficiaries.

The hopeful picture: A government that ensures enough funds for non-party campaigners and enables regular campaigning activities in pursuit of charitable goals, with political neutrality in regard to charity law as a core value.

Additional resources: http://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2014/jan/13/five-things-explain-lobbying-bill

2. Involvement of Charities in delivering Public Services

The transformation of public services will have an impact on transparency, social value and commissioning. There is a consensus amongst parties that public services need in-depth transformations, but also that the third sector should be more involved and be one of the major actors in delivering public services.

For example, the Conservatives say they want more involvement of the voluntary sector in public services, using payment-by-result contracts in order to do so. As most charities are SME’s, Conservatives and Labour want to raise the target of central government spending to these organisations. Labour also wants to create a “Small Business Administration” and set the NHS as the preferred healthcare provider.

Lib Dems also link the health sector with voluntary services and advocate for a bigger role for charities in public services.

The hopeful picture: a government that will continue to reform public service markets, removing obstacles that prevent the third sector from shaping and delivering services to enable sharing of best practise. Secondly, a government that does not lock health related charities out of healthcare provision. Thirdly, a government that does not leave charities as subcontractors but gives them the same chances as big firms to access valuable contracts.

Additional resources: http://www.pioneerspost.com/business-school/20150402/getting-the-right-outcome-outcomes-based-contracts

3. Volunteers

Volunteering initiatives are supported by all parties. They see a role for charities in delivering personalised services to isolated and excluded communities. While the Conservatives defend the idea of offering three days paid leave for public sector workers and employees to volunteer, the Lib Dems and Labour stress the importance for young people to get involved and help the elders. They want to promote social action and volunteering at school, college and university.

The hopeful picture: a society where the state encourages people to support each other and take control in their communities. Taking actions such as the creation of a volunteering fund, boosting donations or improving access to social investment for the third sector. Secondly, a government that does let the NHS become dependent on volunteers.

Additional resources: http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2015/04/17/general-election-2015-manifestos-what-they-would-mean-for-charities/

4. The Work Programme

Charities not only create jobs, many actively help people to get back into work – dramatically supporting the economy.

The Conservatives want to focus on a reform of the welfare system and design programmes to help both cyclically and structurally unemployed to find sustainable jobs. They want to involve the voluntary sector with innovative services for more efficient social care integration. They advocate for the incorporation of charities’ long term solutions ideas within the Work Programme – ‘harness the talent and energy of charities’ – and are keen to use payment by result type of contracts.

Labour and the Lib Dems would like to see the Work Programme operate on a more local level. They both insist on prevention, such as reforms of the NHS rates to increase early intervention. The Lib Dems also want to focus on reducing recidivism through rehabilitation in prison. They want to ensure that the programme creates more incentives for providers who help unemployed people in difficult situations to find jobs.

The hopeful picture: A government that does not drive short term decision making policies. Secondly, a government that will design effective payment contracts and can pay staff a living wage. Thirdly, a government that incentivises preventative action and programmes such as welfare-to-work.

Additional resources: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/49884/the-work-programme.pdf

5. Young people and Education

The three main parties agree that it is important to encourage young people to take part in social actions via volunteering programmes, the National Citizen Service, the #iwill campaign and broaden cooperative education.

The Labour party goes even further than the others and pledges for the creation of a charity dedicated to provide extracurricular activities to the youth. These activities will keep young people “off the streets” and give them a better understanding of their future professional life. Labour also wants to open local childcare programmes to charities.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives want to improve education by protecting schools budgets, raising standards and restore discipline. They aim to invest massively in the construction of new facilities and buildings. The Lib Dems want to target pupils who most need help with a Pupil Premium Programme and encourage apprenticeship.

The hopeful picture: a government that enables young people to take part in social actions that help other people. Secondly, a government that ensures partnerships between schools and charities and creates sufficient public benefit for education.

Additional resources: http://schoolsweek.co.uk/election-2015-what-the-parties-say-they-will-do-for-education/