Aid shield

This morning comes the welcome news that safeguards are being proposed for against aggressive fundraising by charities. The changes will be introduced in amendments to the Charities Bill.

In May the 92-year-old poppy collector Olive Cooke died of exhaustion after being inundated by high pressure demands for money from charities.

David Cameron says:

“Our charities undertake vital work, bringing communities together and providing support to some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

“But the conduct of some fundraisers used by them is frankly unacceptable and damages the reputation of the sector as a whole, which is why we’re introducing a new law to make sure charities raise funds in the right sort of way.”

Reputable charities have repudiated such tactics. Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of SANE, says:

“It is immoral and unjustified and, as chief executive of SANE, I feel I have a responsibility to speak out.

The greatest danger is that the aggressive behaviour we have read about this week — badgering vulnerable and elderly people at home to give money — will break the bond of trust between charities and the public, and that, as a result, donations will tumble as people lose faith in giving money to good causes.

“At SANE, I have long vetoed the kind of fundraising that makes would-be donors feel guilty or mean. I’ve looked at a great many ways of raising appeals and attracting funds. I have always rejected those which I believe add an element of pressure — either emotional or financial — to the donation. I don’t believe that is the meaning of charity.

“Charities should not choose to resort to such tactics as employing profit-making companies to carry out phone calls over which they could have little or no control. Such techniques can be extraordinarily harmful to lonely and vulnerable people.”

Yet the announcement is only the start.

It is one thing to have a rule another to enforce it. The Charity Commission have proved hopelessly ineffective in preventing charities spending money on political propaganda.

For instance there is charitable status for War on Want (former General Secretary, George Galloway). That outfit sponsors the People’s Assembly – a campaign against “any and all” of the public spending cuts.

There is also the case of Christian Aid. The global poverty rate has been halved in 20 years. This has been caused by capitalism – free trade, globalisation, privatisation of land, the development of property rights. While this has been happening Christian Aid spent money on posters that compare free trade to a tsunami, and newspaper advertisements with the slogan: “Tell Tony Blair to stop backing free trade policies”.

It is fine for those running charities to have free speech. The abuse comes in them using charitable funds to promote their opinions. At present there is not even a transparency requirement for charities to disclose the proportion of their funds they spend on lobbying and campaigning.

Thus we have the Government handing over taxpayers’ money to charities who then run anti-Government campaigns. In Queensland there is a rule that any organisation which “receives 50 per cent or more of its total funding from Queensland Health and other Queensland Government agencies, must not advocate for State or Federal legislative change”.

A modest enough restriction: why could we not apply it here?

There should also be greater scrutiny on the proportion of their income that charities spend on admin and excessive salaries.

Charities raise over £80 billion in this country. The British people have shown increasing generosity and that has accomplished great things. It has constituted a boost for the Big Society despite all the sneers at the concept. But too often that trust of those making donations has been betrayed. Those who imagine, in their naivety, that Shelter provides shelter or that the Child Poverty Action Group takes practical action to reduce child poverty.

Unless these abuses are sorted out genuine charities will suffer as cynicism grows.

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