Government and the Voluntary Sector

DSC signs joint letter supporting the right to campaign

A joint statement from charity leaders in support of the right to campaign.

In a debate in parliament yesterday Sir John Hayes (Conservative) said that he and 20 other members of the House had written to the Charity Commission to complain about the Runnymede Trust’s response to the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Minorities. A  report that has now been widely discredited including by academics referenced in the report and the UN. Further to this Sir John asked for assurances from minister Kemi Badenoch that she would make representations across government to stop, in his words, “the worthless work—often publicly funded—of organisations that are promulgating weird, woke ideas…”

Many charities exist because the state has failed and a clear example of the failure of the state is a failure to dismantle race inequality in Britain. This is not the first time that MPs have complained to the Charity Commission when charities have sought to raise awareness about or tackle the issues that are harming people that MPs are elected to serve.

In 2014 Conservative MP Connor Burns complained to the Charity Commission about an Oxfam campaign which linked cuts in benefits to poverty. Last year Conservative MPs who have come together as the ‘Common Sense Group’ called for a Charity Commission investigation into Barnado’s after it published an article explaining white privilege. The Charity Commission CEO has already made it clear, in a blog written in response to complaints made about the National Trust’s work on colonialism that “Charities are allowed to campaign and to take controversial opinions in support of their purpose…”

Yesterday’s debate in parliament comes in the same week that the Greensill lobbying scandal has shown that those with power and connections have access to the heart of the government while those campaigning on social justice issues are frequently denied an audience, in the same year that the government has introduced a bill that closes down the space to protest, and in the same decade in which we have seen a Lobbying Act that created a chilling effect on civil society campaigning, party political appointments to senior roles in non-ministerial departments (including the Charity Commission) and public bodies. While party political appointments to important public offices have occurred under successive governments of different parties, the Good Law Project is currently seeking to end that practice by bringing a judicial review. This judicial review has been joined by the  Runnymede Trust who are are challenging the equality of the hiring practices.

Many of the issues that charities deal with are political, not party political (which is against charity law) but political in the sense that they are issues of the people. Civicus, a global alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action, defines the civil space in the UK as ‘narrowed’. Civic space means the space in which citizens and civil society organisations are able to organise, participate and communicate without hindrance. This means that civic action is more constrained in the UK than it is in neighbouring countries like the Republic of Ireland and fellow G7 countries like Germany and Canada.

We stand in solidarity with all those working to end racism and recognise that organisations run by racialised people and organisations seeking to tackle inequality are disproportionately impacted by attempts to discredit and quieten them. We also stand with all charities and civil society organisations working for public good to create the kind of safe, just and free society that benefits us all.

Signed by:
James Watson-O’Neill, Chief Executive SignHealth
Debra Allcock Tyler, Chief Executive, Directory of Social Change
Vicky Browning, Chief Executive, ACEVO
Tom Brake, Director, Unlock Democracy