WEEKLY RANT: Bullying Charities into Silence
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.