Wednesday 8 April 2009

Charities should be seen and not heard! Give us a break!

Fantastic to hear the robust defence of the historic right of charities to campaign on The Today programme this morning by Liam Byrne MP. The Government have announced a scheme to support small charities in their advocacy and campaigns role. I was appalled at the comments from Jill Kirby, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies also interviewed. She has also written a thoroughly disgraceful piece in The Times (Monday)attacking some of Britain's best loved and most respected Charities. I am not attaching a link as reading this article is bad for your blood pressure.

It is a core function of charities to campaign. It is our historic role. When we deliver services we also want to ensure policy and legislation is favourable for the people we serve .We want to change public opinion. We act to deal with the causes of poverty or crime or abuse , as well as the victims of such. The idea that charities should be seen but not heard is a grave disservice to the vibrancy and health of our democracy and civil society. Lets remember with three cheers all those people in Britain who worked in charities campaigning for an end to the slave trade 200 years ago. Lets remember with thanks the pioneers who set up the RSPCA to campaign against cruelty to animals. With pride we remember the fantastic work of the NSPCC who were set up to campaign against child abuse. And still do.

Jill Kirby, representing the Lady Bountiful wing of philanthropy, attacks Save the Children for "shameless political campaigning". I say thank goodness for that organisation highlighting child poverty in this country. It's the job of charities to both provide help and succour to those in distress and also to point out that Government's need to act to stamp out the root causes of child poverty. Not just a sticking plaster on society ills, but action to heal the wound.

She even has the temerity to attack the RSPB for their environmental campaigning. Oh please, why on earth should they not be alerting us to the problems of climate change and campaigning against developments that might harm bird life. I say well done to the thousands of staff and volunteers in RSPB prepared to stand up and give voice to concerns in this way.

She says we are "brazen". Yes, often, guilty as charged. We often need to be. It's what a fully functioning democracy needs, organisations of volunteers and professional staff who say "lets end child poverty". Its a noble aim, though clearly not for Ms Kirby.

In our recent work in Euclid for the leaders of civil society in the Balkans it was clear to me that for democracies to grow they need a strong and fearless civil society . To think that the only role charities should play in Britain is to provide services quietly is a denial of the very basis of our existence. I shall regard it as my Easter duty to attack this pernicious line of argument at every opportunity . How much poorer would our country be without the millions of people who support and get involved with charity campaigns. its something to celebrate. It helps save us from tyranny and the unfettered power of Government. I am glad to say that the line advocated by Ms Kirby is not one supported by the Conservatives, or by their highly effective Spokesperson Nick Hurd MP. ACEVO will support its members in their campaigning role and I send out an " All memebrs " this afternonn alerting Chief Executives to this debate .

But as I'm on a roll now let me also attack the argument that removing the tax advantage for higher rate taxpayers under Gift Aid , will cut giving. Prof Lester Salomon from the States gave me an interesting article he is about to publish which shows that the big tax breaks Bush gave to the super rich did not result in more giving , even though that was the argument used to partly justify that policy. Click here to read it

1 comment:

Alex said...


You do a lot of telling and announcing on this site, but have not yet displayed all of the listening skills that might make an all-rounder proud.

Are you likely to read these comments, and reply to those of us who wish to engage with you and the organisations you represent.

Leaders can display some humility ?

Just telling us to make up a green army will not necessarily work - that was for Stalin and Mao, not 21 century Britain. We have to be taken along, not told.