Government ignores charities in making of key policy, claims activist

Sir Bert Massie says charities have been undermined in politics

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Controversial and damaging policy decisions are being left unchallenged by charities because they fear criticising Government because ministers have undermined their role in politics, according to one of Britain’s most respected charity figures.

The disability rights campaigner Sir Bert Massie said the Government is “doing its utmost to ensure that the right of the voluntary sector to campaign against harmful policies is increasingly diminished”.

Writing in a report released by the think-tank Civil Exchange, he said ministers have “introduced a number of policies without sufficient consultation”, ignoring an agreement for 12-week consultation periods to allow charities “to make a serious contribution to the development of policy”.

Sir Bert, who has worked in the charity sector for 40 years, cited the so-called “bedroom tax”, saying: “It is hard to believe that the Spare Room Subsidy, or Bedroom Tax, would have been introduced had expert voluntary organisations been able to advise the Government on its disastrous consequences.”

Sir Bert warned that criticising policy is interpreted as “a political act that contravenes charity law”, and this “distorted logic” is used to argue that charities should provide services and not “engage in policy disputes” with the Government.

He argued the situation is such that some charities “no longer seek to assert themselves but impose a degree of self-censorship”.

Sir Bert’s comments follow a recent report by the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector which accused the Government of “treating charities that it predominantly funds like mere arms of the state”. State funding for charities is now nearly £14bn a year – nearly 40 per cent of voluntary sector income.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We strongly support the independence of the voluntary sector and recognise that its ability to campaign freely is part of its value to society.” They added that the Government “is increasing giving and social investment, cutting regulation and helping the sector deliver and innovate public services”.

Tory attacks on charity

Charities have come under increasing attack from politicians in recent years.

A legal challenge to welfare reforms by the Child Poverty Action Group, in October 2011, was branded “ridiculous and irresponsible behaviour” by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

Save the Children was criticised after highlighting the plight of British children in 2012. Conservative MP Brian Binley commented: “I am becoming increasingly concerned about their political involvement.”

In April 2013, the Chancellor, George Osborne, branded critics of welfare cuts as “vested interests” who “always complain”.

And last December it emerged that Mr Duncan Smith accused the Trussell Trust of “scaremongering” over food poverty in Britain.

In June this year, Conservative MP Conor Burns reported Oxfam to the Charity Commission for campaigning on poverty in Britain. Later that month, there were claims that a senior aide to Iain Duncan Smith warned the Trussell Trust it could be “shut down” for highlighting food poverty.

And in September, Brooks Newmark, then minister for civil society, said charities should stay out of “the realms of politics” and “stick to their knitting.”