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WEEKLY RANT: Bullying Charities into Silence

June 12, 2014

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I came across a pair of absolutely outrageous stories last night.

The first is that Chris Mould, chair of the Trussell Trust, giving evidence to the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector yesterday, said that the charity decided to tone down its criticisms of the benefit system after they were threatened by officials. He said that in a face-to-face conversation in March 2013 with “someone in power”, he was told that he must think more carefully otherwise “the government might try to shut you down”.

He gave a second example. In 2011 he received a phone call on his day off “from someone in the Secretary of State’s office which was basically to tell me that the boss was very angry with us because we were publicising the concerns we have over the rising number of people who were struggling as a consequence of delays and inefficiencies in the benefits system”.

The Trussell Trust has long been a thorn in the government’s side, what with their insistence on gathering data on food bank use and then having the temerity to publish it. Their reports are a boil on the nose of the heavily airbrushed front cover model on the Coalition’s “Things Are Getting Better” weekly gossip magazine. The government’s counter-argument, that food banks generate demand for free food, is proved manifestly absurd by the fact that a referral is needed to use one and a voucher is used which records the reasons for the referral.

According to the shadow Employment Minister, Iain Duncan Smith has already forbidden Jobcentres from referring to the Trussell Trust by using their voucher scheme, because they contain a questionnaire on the back which records the reason for the referral. They now use their own vouchers which do not record the reason. What other possible justification could there be for this but the suppression of the true statistics?

Also yesterday, Conservative MP Conor Burns, reported Oxfam to the Charities Commission for its new campaign, which draws attention to poverty and homelessness. He says it is overtly political. The charity refutes the claims. Burns is right, of course. Pointing out inequality, the disgrace of people living in poverty in the world’s sixth richest country, is political. But it is not party political – or it shouldn’t be.

Burns’s complaint quite simply means that highlighting the plight of this country’s poor – which is not only Oxfam’s right, but its duty – is tantamount to anti-Tory rhetoric. His gripe, therefore, contains the implicit admission that the Conservative Party are neither dealing with the underlying issues, nor do they intend to. Otherwise, the response to such a campaign, would be “yes, we know; it’s unacceptable; we will do anything we can to deal with it”. But such a response would be very tricky, considering that charities now openly criticise this government’s policies for, not only ignoring the issues, but exacerbating them.

Iain Duncan Smith already refuses to meet the Trussell Trust, claiming it has a political agenda. Four years on from Cameron’s Big Idea: the Big Society, the thing he was going to spend 100% of his five years in power making a reality, of government working with the charitable sector to redress inequality, they instead find themselves at war with it.

This is totalitarian tactics, pure and simple – ironically resulting from the coalition of the UK’s two, ostensibly, “libertarian” parties. Any evidence which goes against the propaganda the government wishes to project, this offensive and mendacious narrative of perfect recovery, is threatened and bullied away. It is the political equivalent of installing spikes in front of buildings: an unwillingness to deal with any root causes; just a cruel, violent attempt to make the resulting misery invisible.

As many of suspected, Cameron’s Big Society has turned out to be precisely what its initials suggested. A load of BS.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2014 9:43 am

    Dear Chris Mould, I think it is your lawful duty to name the ‘someone in power’ who threatened you with the closure of such a vital charity! People’s needs for food is a basic Human Right and must come before the government need for control and power! The alleged threat must be reported to the Police immediately! In this political climate, where people’s lives are simply been ignored, we all have a duty to demand an alternative to the unneccessary austerity measures that are being imposed on us! Dear Chris, you have the people on your side… and all we want is to feed our children and to insure the decent future that they all deserve… we are ready to stand up to this unjust government, will you stand with us?

  2. beastrabban permalink
    June 12, 2014 9:49 am

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    More information on the government’s determination to silence criticism from the charity sector. Not only was Chris Mould, the head of the Trussell Trust, told to keep his mouth shut about rising levels of poverty in 2011, he was told again last year, in 2013. The DWP uses its own vouchers to refer people to food banks, not those of the Trussell Trust, because the charity’s record the reason for the referral. And Conor Burns went off on a rant about Oxfam’s latest advert being political, because calling attention to poverty and homelessness gives the impression that Tory policies don’t work. So when all else fails, silence the critics.

  3. June 12, 2014 1:31 pm

    You would think that the tories would be all in favour of food banks, what with them being essentially a private sector “solution” to a (tory created) public sector problem. If only they could rebrand them as something less offensive, “rationalise” the workforce by employing extra management layers, and start skimming ten percent of the tins of food off the top for themselves, they would be well away.

  4. June 12, 2014 3:38 pm

    What gets me about the Oxfam thing is the quote from Mr Burns (ironic? I hardly think so) claiming they should, and I’m paraphrasing as I can’t find the original quote, “stick to working with the poor and hungry in Africa”. As if Oxfam should just ignore the thousands of hungry children (and adults) living in the 7th largest economy in the world. I know the right-wingers are always complaining about charities spending “our” money in places like Africa and India and not in the UK, and now, when they DO start spending money here, the Government thinks that’s wrong too?

  5. moi permalink
    June 12, 2014 9:57 pm

    Charities should operate independently from Government however the fact that so many have colluded with Governments of all hues in recent times to live off rather than resolve the problems of the poor, downtrodden, old, infirm, disabled , etc, places charities that are prepared to be , well, charitable, fiercely independent and simply speak out about the plight of the people they were set up to help, in a real bind as when collusion is the norm any kind of independent take and scrutiny can be passed off as overtly political.

    So yeah, lets really praise and support charitable orgs that are prepared to step up , speak out and draw attention to the pressing concerns they were set up to address no matter what but lets not pretend that the political control , censorship , buying off and domestication of the uk charity sector is anything new.

  6. jelly boy permalink
    June 12, 2014 10:44 pm

    ” He said that in a face-to-face conversation in March 2013 with “someone in power”, he was told that he must think more carefully otherwise “the government might try to shut you down”.”

    Always a sign that someone is lying when they won’t name the source.

  7. June 13, 2014 1:55 am

    Once the charities became part of the ‘civil society’ which is funded by national and European government they have to have been expected to have been controlled.

    And time for a bit of guts from those whose salaries are paid by grants from governments.

  8. June 13, 2014 8:00 am

    And people wonder why the Yes vote grows steadily in Scotland. Starting to think that we should offer asylum to people of good will from England. The vileness of the Tories and their Liberal little helpers is not the worst of it. The lack of any coherent opposition at a UK level is the problem. Good article btw

  9. Ron Livingston permalink
    June 13, 2014 2:20 pm

    I must have fallen asleep sometime, and wakened in North Korea. I was sure that we had managed to establish free speech in this country a little time ago, and am absolutely horrified and afraid, if it has come to this here, where we are not allowed to publicise the fact that our government is doing it’s best to ensure that the poorest in our society get it even harder. I think it would suit them that everyone earning under £50000 would just curl up and die.

  10. bjsalba permalink
    June 14, 2014 6:21 am

    Do remember that the gagging bill comes into force in September AFTER the referendum.
    This kind of bullying will then have the force of law behind it! This is exactly what the opponents of that bill said would happen and the politicians pooh-poohed.

    The full name of the bill is

    Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014

  11. June 14, 2014 11:09 am

    This is an absolute disgrace from the government. The Trussell Trust are one of the few success stories in tackling poverty in the UK in recent years. Excellent article though

  12. steven permalink
    June 16, 2014 11:43 pm

    I saw this article via Facebook at first, I’ll just copy & paste what I posted in response there…

    Hmmm, interesting that an organisation that is funded by donations should stick their neck out and have a go at charity. Also that, as far as I know, private companies like, say, Tesco or BP can’t become political parties but ouch all of our electable parties are indeed private companies, this fact being borne out by the fact that each one has its own PAYE tax office reference number – they are all for-profit organisations by definition.Oh yes, and just remembered that come election time they all depend on volunteers to spout their respective shite on your doorstep

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  1. UK Wealth Divide widens, with inequality heading for “most unequal country in the developed world” | imatigerrr

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