If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Definition of Charity

The fuss being made by the Chairwoman of the Charities Commission (the erotically-named Dame Suzi Leather) over the Spending Review is quite an eye-opener. A flavour:
The government's spending cuts could cost voluntary organisations billions of pounds, the charities' regulator in England and Wales has warned.

Charity Commission chairwoman Dame Suzi Leather said cutting funding to charities that were providing key public services would be short sighted.
Whut? How can a cut in government funding be a 'cost'? An increase in the water rates to their headquarters, or a rise in fuel prices for their transport, might be costs a charity has to bear, but how can a reduction in revenue ever be classified as a 'cost'?

Of course, it is only a cost if you accept the new definition of 'charity' espoused by Dame Suzi and her cronies. A 'Charity' is now an organisation that carries out a social function, and is directly funded by the state. (That is when it is not a thinly-disguised propaganda vehicle to advocate government's chosen priorities at arm's length, like ASH or Alcohol Concern.) The only way this differs from a proper government department is that, in addition, some of the charity's income is derived from fundraising. That the government have bought into this is borne out by:
The Cabinet Office said it would help charities with funding shortfalls.
Of course. We have cut your funding, so we have to - er - restore your funding.

Many of the 160,000 organisations the Charities Commission oversees provide key services for councils and rely on local authorities for funding.
So, remind me again - how are these organisations to be called charities? You see, to me the fundamental feature of a charity is that it relies on voluntary donations. If the funding isn't voluntary, it's not a charity - it's something else. And if an organisation calling itself a charity is funded (even partially) from central taxation or local government support, then that money is not given voluntarily. I wasn't asked whether I wanted to support it; the money was taken from me without my consent, and on pain of prison if I didn't pay. Call me old-fashioned, but to me that is slightly different from popping a couple of coins into a collecting box of my own free will.

I think Dame Suzi is confused herself, to be honest. In one paragraph, she refers to them as 'voluntary organisations' and in the next she talks about 'funding to charities'. Well, which is it to be? Either they are voluntary, or they are not. If they are funded out of central taxation, then you cannot claim that they are funded 'voluntarily'. Perhaps we ought to use the term 'Mixed Funding Organisations'. That would at least be honest.

She said: "If you cut the charities, you are cutting our ability to help each other, you are cutting what structures our neighbourliness. That is what Big Society is all about, so you are pulling the rug from under that."
Dame Suzi, do you really think that our ability to help each other, and the 'structure of our neighbourliness', whatever that is, only exist because the government pays for it to exist? If you believe that, then you have a very bleak view of human nature. What this tells me is that the whole 'Third Sector', as they like to call themselves, is totally bound up in government and government business. The boundary is blurred, and there is a lot of manipulation and rent-seeking going on in the fog. If a scheme to (say) help with youth unemployment is worth doing, then why isn't the government doing it in the first place? If something is regarded as worthy enough to be done, but not worthy enough to attract the free support of the public through donations, then you have to ask who is making the judgement on what is worthy.

Dame Suzi, a Labour Party member, was appointed to the Charity Commission in August 2006.

Why am I not amazed by this statement?

Here are a couple of TRUE charities: the RNLI and Help For Heroes.

Oh, and by the way - Dame Suzi is pulling down £105k p.a. for her 3-day week at the Charities Commission. Nice work if you can get it.


  1. Some other Bloggers refer to many of them as "Fake-Charities".

    (Not RNLI or H4H of course)

  2. Thanks, Joe - I am aware of the term. I was trying to draw a bit of a distinction. To me, the 'fake charities' (link way down the page) are the policy vehicles like ASH - the government pay them to advocate what the government wanted to do anyway, so they can say "expert opinion is ..." (Incidentally, is the fake charities site down? I can't seem to get to it.)

    What Suzi Leather (still love the name) is on about is something different - operations like youth employment schemes that call themselves charities, but are largely funded by the state. I think the deal is that they are much safer from criticism or cuts because of the 'charity' name - they have a status in the eye of the public that genuine goverment departments don't have. I mean, what vicious bastard would cut funds to a charity?

    Should have made that clearer.


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