Types of Pressure Groups

There is a huge variety o of groups, from very local ones, which might campaign against a new road and well known national or even international groups. The UK has thousands of pressure groups, covering every issue possible. Pressure groups provide an alternative avenue of representation, particularly on small or minority issues, that might not concern a majority of the electorate or the parties seeking majority support. With such a large number of groups, the UK provides a mouthpiece for any minority interest as well as providing a variety of ways in which the public can participate.

They are usually divided into three main groups:

Sectional groups (or interest groups) seek to promote the interests of a specific group such as an occupation for example, trade unions or professional groups represent their members in negotiations with employers over wages and working conditions. . Often these are professional associations, like the British Medical Association (BMA) or a trade union such as the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).Membership of a sectional group is usually restricted to people who meet specific requirements, such as professional qualifications in a particular field. For example, the Law Society is open to solicitors in England and Wales. Large corporations such as Google, Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon are so big and influential that they qualify as a kind of sectional pressure group on their own. They resist proposed legislation that might damage their operations, and seek to emphasise the positive role they play in the national economy. They employ large numbers of people and account for a significant proportion of economic activity, therefore they have a strategically important place in the economy.

Cause groups (or promotional groups) are focused on achieving a particular goal or drawing attention to an issue or group of related issues. Membership is usually open to anyone who sympathises with their aims. For example, Greenpeace promotes awareness of environmental concerns and tries to influence the government to adopt 'green' causes. Causal groups often aim to improve society in some way and may take the form of a charity, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) or Oxfam. They will often perform a wide variety of activities, from fundraising and raising awareness, to research and education, as well as putting pressure on those in power.

Here are some prominent examples of promotional groups operating in the UK:

Greenpeace Friends of the Earth; Liberty; Unlock Democracy; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament(CND)

· Social movements are similar to cause groups but are more loosely structured. Some participants may also belong to more traditional pressure groups, while others are simply moved to take part in a specific protest. Social movements are usually politically radical and seek to achieve a single objective. For example, the 'Camps for Climate Action' were created for short periods in 2007-10 to protest against the expansion of Heathrow airport, coal-fired power stations in Yorkshire and other environmental targets.Other examples include Me Too and Black Lives Matter

Hybrid Groups

Some sectional groups may be hybrid in that they believe that, by serving the interests of their own members and supporters, the wider community will also benefit. For example, unions representing teachers or doctors will argue that the interests of their members are also the interests of all of us. Better-treated and better-paid teachers or doctors and medical staff will mean better education and health for all.

Another way to categorise pressure groups is to look at the nature of their relationship with the government.

There are broadly two different kinds of group.

· Insider groups rely on contacts with ministers and civil servants to get their way. Some, like the National Union of Farmers, have close links with the relevant government department (in this case, DEFRA). Insider groups tend to have objectives that are broadly in line with the views of the government, increasing their leverage. Insider groups are also sub-divided into low- and high-profile groups. Low-profile groups, such as the Howard League for prison reform, rely on discreet behind the scenes contacts rather than seeking publicity. High-profile groups, such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), supplement their lobbying with use of the media to make their case.

They seek to become involved in the early stages of policy and law making. This means that they are often consulted by decision makers and sometimes can offer expert advice and information. l Some such groups employ professional lobbyists whose job it is to gain access to decision makers and make high-quality presentations of their case. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Institute of Directors (IOD) have advised government on policy making committees, as have trade unions and professional bodies representing groups of workers and members of the professions. Groups mays may be called to testify before parliamentary committees, both select and legislative.

Core Insiders - those with a strong two-way relationship with policy-makers over a broad range of issues (e.g. the BMA, the NFU)

Specialist Insiders – those who are granted insider status within a more narrow area of expertise (e.g. the WWF)

Peripheral Insiders - those who have insider status but are only rarely needed by government due to the nature of their interest/cause (e.g. the Dogs Trust) or British Bee Keepers Association

Outsider groups are not consulted by the government. Their objectives may be so far outside the political mainstream (for example, animal rights protestors who try to intimidate animal testing laboratories into ceasing their work) that the government is unlikely to enter into dialogue with them. Alternatively, an outsider group may wish to preserve its independence and reputation for ideological purity by keeping government at a distance. For example, the 'Occupy' movement, which organised sit-ins in late 2011, sees government as closely aligned to the global capitalist movement against which they are protesting.

Some groups move from insider to outsider status (and vice-versa) according to changing political circumstances. In the post-war era, trade unions enjoyed privileged access to influence, especially when Labour governments were in power, but with the election of the Thatcher government in 1979, union leaders were deliberately excluded from the corridors of power

Test yourself

Identify an example of a particular pressure group or other association which might carry out the function and use the methods described.


  1. An organisation that seeks to mobilise public opinion through the use of mass demonstrations

  2. An organisation that operates on behalf of business and seeks to influence ministers and parliamentarians directly

  3. An organisation that tends to use illegal methods or civil disobedience to gain public attention

  4. An organisation that has local concerns and typically uses social media to organise protest

  5. An organisation that uses insider status to represent the interests of a particular section of society

  6. Identify the differences between pressure groups and political parties.


  1. Friends of the Earth, ‘peace’ movements, occupational groups.

  2. Confederation of British Industry (CBI)Institute of Directors(IOD)

  3. Greenpeace, anti-fox hunting groups

  4. Anti-fracking, anti-airport expansion.

  5. National Farmers’ Union, UK Finance

6. Parties seek governmental power, pressure groups do not.

  • Parties are accountable, pressure groups are not.

  • Parties adopt a wide range of policies, pressure groups have narrow concerns