Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Charity Commission

One of the particularly ugly hallmarks of the ‘New Labour’ government is their propensity to forsake established principles, such as non ‘conflict of interest,’ the ‘right to be heard’ and many others. One way in which they do this is to wave the word ‘debate’ around as if it is a magic wand that can make these pesky principles disappear. Wearing a mask of pseudo- innocent reasonableness they chirp and chirrup ‘I just want to start a debate!’ before elbowing established maxims and morals into the dustbin.

On the Charity Commission’s website, they make the following pious statement about what their role is:

“Whatever their size or purpose, an essential requirement of all charities is that they operate for the public benefit and independently of government or commercial interests. Our job is to ensure this happens.”

That’s strange; because I’ve noticed a large number of charities bidding for lucrative government contracts to carry out Welfare Reform objectives. The Welfare Reform Bill proposes to commit a number of human rights breaches against deaf and disabled people. I know this because the Joint Committee on Human Rights has written to the Secretary of State expressing concern that some things in the Bill are not compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations. Certainly to my mind, forcing disabled people into slavery, referred to euphemistically as ‘work related activity,’ is driving and reversing a Sherman tank over disabled people’s human rights.

Enraged, I wrote to the Charity Commission to point out this glaring conflict of interest. Charities are supposed to be looking after their beneficiaries, yet here they are, bidding for contracts which give them the power to force disabled people to attend ‘work-focussed interviews,’ to force disabled people into slavery and to cut the benefits of those who don’t comply, sending them even deeper into poverty than they already are! I thought that there was absolutely no way that a charity could claim to be operating independently of government and commercial interests at the same time as bidding for lucrative government contracts that allow them to piddle on the human rights of their beneficiaries. So I didn’t expect the lawyerly, weasel-worded reply that I got from the Charity Commission.

In their usual highly condescending tone, they explained that it’s up to charity trustees to decide whether or not these things are in the interests of their beneficiaries (!) I guess that we humble pawns, I mean beneficiaries, should just butt out then. Clearly it’s very important what the government thinks. It’s very important what the charities think. It’s very important what the Charity Commission thinks. But the people who are the ones who are supposed to benefit from all these shenanigans - the beneficiaries – well, who gives a rat’s behind what they think?

‘It is not illegal for charities to carry out their purposes by undertaking work under contract with government,’ the Charity Commission’s response chirped. For some reason I remembered numerous MP’s declaring that they ‘haven’t broken any rules’ over the expenses fiasco. Well, that’s all right then! It's easy for those who are a law unto themselves to abide by their own laws.

In the Charity Commission’s leaflet, Andrew Hind and Dame Suzi Leather (the CEO and chair) declare ‘[b]ut the last few years have seen increasing numbers of charities undertaking this work and the debate has certainly moved on.’

That ‘debate’ magic wand again!

I hope to return to strictly RNID issues in my next post.