Yesterday I blogged about Oxfam’s ‘Perfect Storm’ poster on poverty in the UK that has led to them being accused of party political bias. In response Laura Taylor, Head of Advocacy at Christian Aid has written this guest post giving her take on it. Laura tweets at @1LauraTaylor.
Not so long ago, when Labour were in power, the Church of England was being described as the Tory party at prayer. This was partly due to demographics but also partly, I think, because of the challenge they were bringing to the government on issues such as human fertilization.
Now that churches are speaking out on issues of domestic poverty, all of a sudden those in the media are writing about the CofE as the Labour Party at prayer.
In recent times the Church of England in particular has had a habit of irritating every government on different matters in some way. Does that mean it is lurching across the political spectrum each time there is a change in government, just to take an opposing stance and cause trouble, or is it rather that the church continues to find issues that it feels need to be raised and challenged irrespective of which party is currently in power?
I would say that offering a critique of government policy is inherent to the work of both churches and charities. If we are dealing with social ills it of course makes sense to question the policies which are causing or failing to stem the problems. That is not party-political.
- We come up with a policy ourselves which no one agrees with – at least not yet.
- We come up with a policy ourselves which then gets taken up by the opposition – which then makes us look partisan even though we’re just being consistent (Dan Hodges wrote in the Telegraph yesterday about the extent to which Labour appear to have taken elements from Oxfam reports and turned them into their own policies).
- We see others recommending a policy and we get behind it because, from our evidence, it makes sense.
In this context it is really difficult to appear politically neutral all of the time. But it is usually manageable as, up until now, for all major parties we’ve been able to praise certain policies while criticising others, thus maintaining a level of even-handedness. Here it is vital that we give credit where it’s due. So for example Christian Aid can praise the Tories when they stick to their commitment to the 0.7% aid target, or the coalition for steps taken to help tackle tax dodging but criticise them for a lack of leadership on climate change. And over the 13 years of Labour’s government we campaigned for changes in policies from trade to climate change too – as well as praising progress when we saw it. However, with the arrival of UKIP on mainstream politics we may be moving into new territory. Here, as it stands (in the absence of a full manifesto or detailed policies) we might struggle to find any areas of common ground with them on the issues we’re focusing on.
Overall at Christian Aid, we absolutely want to – and do – work with politicians from across the spectrum on issues where we have joint objectives, but are we also make it completely clear that it is also our job to highlight policies that aren’t working – whichever party is responsible.
It’s inevitable that along the way some will take offence to or misinterpret the nature of our work, but if Christian Aid were more concerned about upsetting others than fighting for a world free of poverty and injustice, we’d never achieve anything of value.
Categories: Campaigning, Christian organisations, Party politics, Uncategorized
Separating out the role of the church, we need to look at how far a tax exempt and gift aid benefiting organisation should be campaigning in a way that actively matches the efforts of non-tax exempt political parties / trade unions. The problem can therefore be seen to lie in the way that those other bodies have become politically ineffective, leaving charities feeling the need to step into the breach. What would be far more honest would be for the development charities to establish a free standing advocacy body that sought non-charitable giving and did this sort of advocacy; it just doesn’t smell right at the moment, and endangers the ‘front-line’ role of the charities.
Interesting thought to seperate out the role of the Church. Putting that to one side for a moment, it’s hard to understand the tax-exempt claim made in the comment above. Charities are not-for-profit organisations, hence we generate no profit, we undertake no business activity and therefore there is no tax to pay. That is different from being tax exempt. We fill in a tax return, but because there is nil business activity there is nil tax.
We do of course pay tax (employers NI) on our staff salaries and our staff pay tax and NI on them as well. And, unlike for the corporate sector, the 20% VAT on goods and services we procure is not recoverable because we have no products that we sell. So like an end consumer all cost of purchases are gross, not net of VAT.
So what’s the tax benefit of being a charity? Well it’s the Gift Aid that we recover on public donations, but that doesn’t make us tax exempt.
As well as gift aid, I believe you are exempt from business rates on the premises you occupy – which is why Charity shops can operate where ordinary retailers can’t.
However the basic problem is that in the perception of the public, political campaigning is not something that a ‘charity’ should be doing. That’s not what we give money for – and the persistent resistance of the public opinion to suggestions that political parties should get state funding is reflective of this point. And that’s therefore the ‘yuck’ factor that you are butting up against – it’s ‘cheating’ for a charity to do political activism – even if it’s ‘non-party political’. It’s taking the mick – and a breach of trust. It’s what politicians do – and we like to think charity workers aren’t politicians. If you fail to maintain the distinction you’ll attract the opprobrium that attaches to politicians. WDM operates happily as non-charity NGO… the rest of you should stick to your knitting.