Welfare and Lobbying Act proposals welcomed but other parts of the SNP's manifesto given a cooler reception
Pledges to devolve welfare and to abolish the Lobbying Act contained in the Scottish National Party (SNP) general election manifesto have been welcomed by senior third sector figures.
While sections of the document, unveiled on Monday, were described as “encouraging”, other parts were given a lukewarm reception.
One leading charity figure said it failed to offer a coherent vision of the third sector’s role in society and criticised it for ignoring volunteering.
There was was, however, approval for the commitment to getting rid of the Lobbying Act.
The legislation, which came into force last year, brought in changes to how non-political organisations can conduct campaigning work in the run up to elections.
The SNP's manifesto seeks to bring progressive change across the UK, but it fails to offer a coherent vision for the role of charities in society
However, third sector groups are concerned they could be caught up in these changes even if they don’t mention political parties but campaign on general policy – for example the retention of the Human Rights Act and welfare spending cuts.
Martin Sime, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), which has campaigned vociferously against the legislation, said: “SCVO warmly welcomes these commitments to remove unfair restrictions on charity lobbying.
“Our campaigns are for public benefit and charities work hard to make sure that the voices of those most marginalised and discriminated against are heard in the corridors of power.
“That’s a bit different from hired hands promoting private profit – the real scandal is that we were all lumped together in the first place.”
John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said: "The SNP's manifesto seeks to bring progressive change across the UK, but it fails to offer a clear and coherent vision for the role of charities in society.
“The commitment to exempt charities from the Lobbying Act is welcome, and proposals to encourage the growth of social enterprise will also be warmly received.
“However it is disappointing that such little attention is given to the role of charities in delivering high-quality public services, and a failure to promote the importance of volunteering is also notable.
“We need to see parties finding common ground in their commitment to a strong civil society to ensure that charities are at the heart of any future government."
Meanwhile, homelessness charity Crisis welcomed calls for a review of benefit sanctions and plans to protect housing benefit for young people, as well as commitments to create more affordable housing.
Matt Downie, director of policy, said: “We welcome measures outlined by the SNP to ensure that the welfare safety net protects some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“In particular we support the SNP’s calls for an urgent review of benefit sanctions. Sanctions are cruel and can leave people cold, hungry and at severe risk of homelessness.
“Our next government must initiate a full independent review into the appropriateness and effectiveness of the regime, particularly for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
“It is also encouraging to see the SNP standing firmly against attempts to restrict housing benefit for 18 to 21 year olds. Almost one in three homeless people are aged between 16 and 24.
“Housing benefit can be a lifeline for young people who cannot rely on the support of their parents. Any plans to remove this safety net could have devastating consequences, leaving more vulnerable young people with no choice but to turn to the streets.
“Crisis’ research shows that, along with benefit cuts and the ongoing effects of the recession, a shortage of genuinely affordable homes is leaving far too many people facing homelessness.
“It is therefore heartening to see the SNP give political backing to plans to build more affordable homes – a critical ingredient in the effort to end the scandal of 21st century homelessness.”
Sime also welcomed the SNP’s commitment to devolving welfare to Scotland.