Charities are tools of government, argues IEA

11 Jun 12
Public funding of voluntary organisations subverts democracy and debases the concept of charity, according to a free-market think-tank.

By Vivienne Russell | 11 June 2012

Public funding of voluntary organisations subverts democracy and debases the concept of charity, according to a free-market think-tank.

In a report published today, the Institute of Economic Affairs says state funding of charities has increased significantly over the past 15 years, with more than 27,000 now dependent on the government for over 75% of their income. It adds that the government uses charities to champion unfashionable causes, such as foreign aid.

The IEA’s report, Sock puppets: how the government lobbies itself and why, argues that over-reliance on state funding weakens charities’ independence and makes them reluctant to criticise government policy. The sector typically lobbies for bigger government, more spending and regulation, and the creation of new agencies to create and oversee new laws.

Report author Christopher Snowden said: ‘It is appalling that for so long the government has got away with debasing the term “charity”. Many so-called “charities” are little more than fronts for state-funding campaigns or providers of state-funding services. It is vital that more transparency is introduced so the public know exactly what the government is funding.

‘We also need much greater measures to prevent government spending our money on trying to manipulate our opinions and behaviour.’

But the National Council for Voluntary Organisations dismissed the report’s findings as ‘woefully short-sighted’. Chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington said charities’ campaigning work was well-understood and supported by the public.

He said: ‘Far from “debasing the concept of charity”, campaigning helps charities to advocate for disenfranchised people, or support and encourage them to speak up for themselves. The independence of the sector is paramount in helping voices to be heard and bringing major social issues to public attention. Who would question the efficacy and need for recent campaigns such as the London Living Wage Campaign and End Child Poverty?

‘Rather than being dragged through the mire, this work should be protected, promoted and celebrated.’

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