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What are Pressure Groups?

There are many types of ‘pressure groups’. Typically a pressure group is an organized group of people that wants to influence the policies or activities of those in able to make decisions. This could be at a local, national or international level of government.


  • Pressure groups work to influence from outside rather than to win or exercise governmental power
  • They often have a narrow or sometimes singular issue that they focus on
  • They are a group of people who come together with a particular cause or concern. These causes can bring people from different parts of the political spectrum together as cause over takes party politics.

Types of Pressure Groups

  • Some have higher public profiles than others. This can be due to the issue, public ‘stunts’ or use of celebrities e.g. Hacked Off Campaign, Greenpeace, Fathers4Justice and Countryside Alliance
  • Many areas of British society such as charities, trade unions, churches and professional associations also come under the category of pressure groups.
  • Some are organizations that provide services to the public but also lobby the Government on issues that are important to them.
  • Pressure groups will usually exist to promote the purpose of the group – sometimes referred to as ‘interest groups’ e.g. a group representing terms and conditions for doctors or a cause e.g a group wanting more money put into medical research

More on Interest Groups…

Interest Groups such as Trade Unions seek to protect or advance the interests of their members. This means that membership is often limited to people who fit a certain occupation or position. People within the interest groups have a vested interest in that they want to benefit directly from any positive outcomes the group is able to achieve. Examples are the National Union of Teachers and National Famers Union (NFU)

More on ‘Cause’ Groups

Cause Groups are made up of people who share the same attitudes and beliefs and wish to advance the cause within those who make decisions around a certain subject. They are not looking for direct benefits e.g. better pay for their profession and membership is therefore much more open if you share the same attitude. Examples include Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and Shelter a charity focused on tackling homelessness.

On the international stage these groups are also referred to as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) for example the Red Cross.

Influence on the Political System

Broadly, there are two types of influences- those that sit close to Government and those that are at arms-length and therefore have perhaps less influence.

  • Close to Government – these will be consulted by the Government, at varying levels, on a regular basis and even sit on policy or parliamentary committees.
  • Arms length – they have no direct links to the Government either by choice of the Government or the group. Typically in this situation they will try to influence through the public or through the media with varying success.

Although broadly speaking pressure groups sit outside the political system, there is often confusion or overlap between them. For example, although the UK Independence Party (UKIP) puts up candidates and wins at elections it has a narrow base – to get the UK out of the European Union (EU). Some pressure groups use elections as a means of gaining publicity and raising the profile for their issue.

pressure group protest