Should Charities Be Lobbying Government?

Over the last decade or two, it has been interestingly the fashion for many charities to consider themselves political ‘think tanks’ who believe they have the ability and indeed the responsibility to lobby governments on behalf of the people they claim to represent, particularly in the field of disability. I am wondering if the trend is healthy or whether it is removing the idea of a democracy made up of individuals in preference to one managed by organisations?

Historically lobbying has been seen as being done by big corporations and industries, namely the Tobacco industry, and frowned upon as the dirty tricks of bad capitalist giants trying to interfere in government against the wishes of the people with sweeteners. So I find it very interesting that when charities start lobbying, most people feel it is fabulous and should be congratulated. But I think the problem here is most people do not understand what a big charity is within 2014 Britain.

Charities are no longer the philanthropic ventures of the Victorian era, using the excess profits of the budding capitalists of the time to provide good for ‘the poor and the weak’, simply to pay their way into heaven. Together, charities are primarily ‘not for profit’ service providers who employ a lot of staff, their central expense, and their central aim as organisational entities, especially those who are far removed from their founders, is their survival for the sake of their staff. As I have said in previous articles, old fashion fundraising methods of promoting their users as objects of pity had to be halted because users began to bite back. This led to campaigning and reframing themselves as the voice of their users, which has now led to a greater focus on lobbying.

An example of this has been how a number of disability charities lobbied on the Care Act 2014, with organisations like Leonard Cheshire calling for an end to 15 minute care calls, and Scope calling for support for people with moderate needs. They all claim to lobby government on behalf of, or as the voice of, disabled people, but the reality is they are all providers of social care services. The amendments they were calling for would actually benefit their business activities although they have never been upfront on this!

If Sainsburys or Tescos proclaimed themselves to be the voice of consumers and started lobbying government for Supermarket Subsidies in the guise of keeping prices low, and profits high, there would be uproar and protests. But this is exactly what charities are doing and the public simply accepts it as a very good thing, and it is potentially taking people’s ability to represent themselves away! I think this is simply because people believe the illusion of charities, as opposed to the reality of what they do and how they act in their own best interests.

I would very much like to see the government bring in a new law to require charities to split their business activities from their campaigning activities, in a manner that is upfront and clear for people to understand. I find it quite disconcerting that Age UK is allowed for example to claim to be the voice of older people in one television advert, and then try to sell people a stairlift (based on their reputation) in another advert! The public would not accept this from any company, although they are trying to slip in by the way they try to convince consumers money will be given to charity only if they buy their product, using guilt to win over price.

If charities want to lobby government, then they should be upfront that it is for their own benefit first, and others second. It would be better for them to start doing this now before the wider public starts to cotton on to the tricks they play in their name.

from Simon Stevens


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