There is a truism that it is much easier to defend oneself from a major onslaught than it is from a drip drip drip undermining of value and credibility. An onslaught is often recognised by others as taking place and some level of mutual support can be offered, whereas small but constant challenges can be overlooked by others and indeed can become part of the culture and so are normalised. This appears to be the case with Conservative Party attacks on the charity sector. This comes in the same period as other Party members claim that we need a big society which of course depends on having a strong charitable sector!
According to the Charity Commission website there are 163,000 charities and the vast majority of these are small charities that employ no one and receive no public funds and in most cases only have the funds raised by the members through activities such as raffles and jumble sales. These are rarely criticised individually by Politicians unless of course they do something illegal or that threatens other people. However together they do get the occasional moan (not just from Tories) that there are too many small charities and surely there is a lot of duplication. Most of this criticism is based on ignorance and misunderstanding. At the other end of the spectrum are a few very large organisations that have the resources to pay staff significant salaries and some of which also pay Trustees large sums. These organisations attract very powerful individuals as Trustees, often with direct political links and some of these organisations also have very questionable roles or activities and many of us would question if they are truly charities. An example of this is the Wellcome Trust which would never be criticised by national politicians because their Trustees are drawn from the same pools that politicians swim in.
In between are a much smaller number of charities that have a far from certain future and which do enormous amounts of good work. Some receive public funds (over and above the tax relief that all charities benefit from) to carry out services that the state either can’t or won’t provide. Many do not receive any such funds, either because their work does not attract such opportunities or because of issues of principle. Within this array of charities are some that are regularly criticised because of what they do or their core principles. Many people opposed to private Schools criticise their charitable status, others who believe that religious organisation should not be treated as charities raise their voices regularly too. However the political criticism seems to be based on a different form of ideology and it comes predominately from the Conservative Party.
- It is the Conservatives that forced through part 2 of the Lobbying Bill that seeks to gag charities.
- Around a year ago Priti Patel wrote a very critical article about a small number of charities that pay their CEOs around £100,000 a year. Many of those listed were working to alleviate poverty overseas. None of them were at the scale of Wellcome Trust or had well placed Tories as Trustees or supporters. Nor where they the very large animal based charities (that are universally loved by voters)
- Other MPs such as Charlie Elphicke have criticised organisations such as Oxfam for being too political.
- There has been extensive criticism, explicit and implicit of foodbanks by a number of Government Ministers and backbenchers.
- Finally a think tank called the centre for policy studies has just criticised the 50 largest charities in the UK for their lack of transparency with the way they spend £3.1Bn of public money. This is not an attack on charity A or B but a largish group of charities, some of which will be very open and have an exemplary approach and some that no doubt could do better. The problem is that people seeing the headlines or even a summary of the report won’t know which these charities are, and the knock on impact on much smaller charities will be just as damaging as for the proportion of those 50 charities that are doing nothing wrong.
The CPS consists of an impressive array of Tory MPs, Lords and other supporters. One could describe this think tank as the Conservative Party in thought. My question is why do the Torys seem to hate charities so much and why are they so determined to destroy the charitable sector?