Community impact and political campaigning at Scouts
At Scouts we're committed to making a difference, but before taking action we need to make sure it's within campaigning rules
At Scouts, helping other people is a huge part of what we do. We’ve always been committed to serving our communities and making a difference. This benefits both the Scouts taking part, helping them gain new skills, and develop a greater understanding of the world, as well as the people they’re helping.
Scouts must also operate in line with rules set out in POR and the laws for all charities in the UK on campaigning. In England and Wales, it is the Charity Commission that oversees charities, and in Scotland it is OSCR.
What the law says
By law, charities can only undertake political activity that directly supports the organisation’s charitable purposes. Political activity in the Charity’s Commission guidance is described as activities or campaigning to change or influence policies or decisions taken by:
- National, devolved, local or overseas government.
- Public bodies including international organisations, such as the UN and World Bank, and national or local organisations, such as regulators or NHS Trusts.
Scouts' charitable purpose
The Scouts’ charitable purpose in the UK and for British Scouting Overseas and overseas branches is ‘to promote the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potentials as individuals, as responsible citizens and as members of their local, national and international communities’.
How we can campaign
Scouts works at the UK-level with Parliament and policymakers to progress our charitable purpose, as part of supporting the movement in the UK. This is why Scouts attend party political conferences, create a platform for our young people at international events like COP26, meet government ministers and MPs. We work with other youth organisations to campaign for further support for the sector through schemes such as the Youth Investment Fund and the Uniformed Youth Fund.
You may have also seen our campaign in 2009 to overturn the ‘rain tax’ or participated in our call to MPs to support the extension of the energy price cap relief scheme for charities. The implications of these policies directly impacted Scouts’ operations and so campaigning in these circumstances supported our central mission.
This means adult volunteers may only use their positions in Scouts to secure policy changes where there is a direct link to our charitable objective and always with a focus on how it is supporting the young people in their care. Leaders’ roles are to support young people in their sections, groups, districts or counties, and their duty of care is to these young people rather than those in the international wider community.
How we talk to young people about global issues
Adult volunteers help our young members locally to understand global issues in a fair and balanced way and explore their roles as responsible citizens. Scouts is a movement committed to peace and humanity. We support young members to stand against violence in all forms, protect the dignity of all human life and safeguard our environment. Activities that would be considered acceptable are:
- Talking to young people in Scouting about social issues and global events that are taking place with consideration of age and emotional maturity and with balance.
- Enabling young people to raise money for environmental causes or humanitarian appeals to support other young people impacted by global events.
- Inviting your MP to visit your local group and let young people share their personal views about social and global issues in alignment with Scout values.
Scouting is a movement rooted in kindness and respect. In all circumstances, context and individual and cultural sensitives must be taken into consideration.
What we can't do
If there is not a clear alignment with Scouts' charitable objective, then it is not permitted within charity law and we will be held to account by our regulators, the Charity Commission or OSCR.
In all cases, we will likely attract negative media attention which will impact how the public and key decision makers view the Scout Association and the wider movement.
Our Board of Trustees is responsible for ensuring our political activity is aligned with our mission and permitted under Charity Law.
Examples of activities that would be considered political and would not be permitted within charity law include:
- Attending political marches or protests in uniform or acting as a Scout representative calling for changes to our Government’s policies or those of authorities abroad unless it is clear how it specifically advances our mission.
- Sharing political content or statements on Scout social media, or on personal social media acting as a representative of Scouts, that is not specific to Scouts mission, calling on Governments in the UK or overseas to make specific policy changes.
- Endorsing a particular political party while wearing uniform or acting as a representative of Scouts.
Scouts consulted with the Charity Commission while producing this guidance
If you are an adult volunteer in Scouts, you should consider the following questions before taking part in any campaigning activity:
Would the activity you want to carry out come within the definition of political activity set out in guidance from the Charity Commission or OSCR? This could mean, are you asking the UK government, or a government abroad, to change its policies?
If the answer is 'yes', then the answer to the following questions would also need to be 'yes' for the activity to be permitted:
Does that policy change actively support Scouts’ charitable objective, or how we operate as a charity?
Does this activity prioritise the development of young people as responsible citizens, rather than give adult volunteers a platform for advocacy?
Are you protecting the safety and wellbeing of the young people who are directly in your care?
Are your actions being driven by kindness and compassion? And are you sure your actions won’t offend or discriminate against others in the movement?