Friday, 7 June 2013

PASC! Let's celebrate charity campaigning!

Some interesting commentary on the Report I castigated yesterday. An example of why this Report could be dangerous came in a comment piece in the Telegraph on the call for charities to publish their spending on campaigning and political activity.

 It says, "We can infer from this the concern that some have become overly political. Many take state funds which they then use to engage in political lobbying; effectively using taxpayers’ money to subsidise a new Left-leaning lobby. One recent example was Cafod’s support for “climate justice”. The problem is also apparent in the opposition that some charities have put up against the Government welfare reform agenda. Not only does the Charities Act 2006 need fixing, but we also have to address the troubling growth of partisanship in a sector that ought to be concerned with giving."

Arrant nonsense. But a warning about what motivates the PASC report. It is not about supporting campaigning. Those in the sector who welcomed this as a step for "transparency" need to be careful. It has nothing to do with transparency; you can learn all you need about charities advocacy and campaigning from their websites. We ain't exactly shy on this front. But expecting us to count up the number of paper clips and photocopies we use and report on it is a false transparency. Such an accountancy approach to transparency misses the point. Let's resist this further attempt to undermine our legitimate role as civil society. And beware; this is simply a thin end of a wedge. Instead let's celebrate our campaigning role. 

 For centuries charities have campaigned; whether it was the Anti Slavery Society petitioning Parliament, Lord Shaftesbury and the 10 hours league agitating for legislation on working conditions, or the societies for the prevention of abuse against animals or children in the last century; or campaigns for human rights and better treatment for mental health and the disabled in this. Let celebrate the work of Octavia Hill, the ardent campaigner for the countryside and her National Trust ( founded in 1894)which even today gets active in campaigning against the Government when they do stupid things like trying to sell off our forests. Indeed one could argue that charities advocacy and campaigning are essential underpinning of our democracy.

As Lord Nathan, in his 1952 Lords Committee Report on charity stated,

“An active questioning charitable sector is one of the guarantors of democracy”

The suggestion that charities should not campaign on behalf of their members and beneficiaries over welfare reform, as suggested by PASC  Is not simply to ignore the very basis of charitable activity but profoundly anti democratic. We shall resist attempts to muzzle civil society.

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