Embassy News: ‘Stick to the knitting’: Charities face similar scrutiny in UK, Canada
‘Civil society organizations are not there just to run soup kitchens,’ argues former UK charity regulator.
Embassy News, Aug 27, 2014 | Full STORY
In June, about six weeks before news broke that Canada’s tax office had told a major charity it didn’t consider “preventing poverty” a charitable goal, a familiar story was playing out across the pond.
Oxfam Canada’s affiliate in the United Kingdom had tweeted about a “perfect storm” for poverty conditions being created by what it saw as a trend in the UK of harsh contracting terms, high prices, cuts to benefits and unemployment.
The tweet caught the eye of Conor Burns, a UK Conservative Party politician, who complained in a letter to the regional charity regulator that it was “overtly political” and aimed at his government.
“Most of us operated under the illusion that Oxfam’s focus was on the relief of poverty and famine overseas,” wrote Mr. Burns. “I cannot see how using funds donated to charity to campaign politically can be in accord with Oxfam’s charitable status.”
The comment by Mr. Burns is only one example of what appears to be a striking similarity between the issues faced by the Canadian and English charity sectors.
Charities in England and Wales—Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own separate regulators—are seeing the rules around their behaviour changed and government agents peering into their “political activity.” Red flags are being raised about a chill settling over civil society, and there are grumblings about charities needing to be reined in. And it’s not just parts of the UK; organizations in Australia also say something similar is occurring, according to a report this month by David P. Ball on TheTyee.ca.