Oxfam, poverty and charity

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It looks like a Conservative backlash on anti-poverty campaigning in the UK has begun. It has been widely reported that Conservative MP Conor Burns has reported the charity to the Charity Commission. According to the BBC:

In a letter to its chair William Shawcross, Mr Burns said the campaign was "overtly political and aimed at the policies of the current government".

Speaking later, he added: "Many people who support Oxfam will be shocked and saddened by this highly political campaigning in domestic British politics.

"Most of us operated under the illusion that Oxfam's focus was on the relief of poverty and famine overseas.

"I cannot see how using funds donated to charity to campaign politically can be in accord with Oxfam's charitable status."

He said he had received a reply from Mr Shawcross in which he said that "the tweet is currently being assessed to see whether it raises any regulatory concerns".

The Telegraph, meanwhile, is suggesting Oxfam is a Labour front organisation because some of its employees have been members of the Labour party.

Leaving aside the somewhat absurd suggestion that membership of a political party should prevent a person from working for a charity (which would have pretty significant impact on many right wing think tanks that are charities) the facts need to be appraised here. Oxfam sent out a tweet using this image:

What Oxfam was very clearly saying is that these facts (for they are all facts) can create poverty. It is very hard to see how anyone could disagree. So the question is whether or not Oxfam can say this in the context of charity law. The only guidance that the Charity Commission provides on what constitutes poverty and its relief for charitable purposes  is they say, out of date, and due to be replaced. The only trouble is, they have not replaced it and I have checked their public benefit guides in detail and they provide no indication in them of what they intend the term poverty to mean. As such, whatever the Charity Commission say the fact that they have this on their web site at present appears to me to be clear indication that this is what they think on the issue of poverty:

1. In the past, the courts have tended to define ‘poverty’ by reference to financial hardship or lack of material things but, in current social and economic circumstances, poverty includes many disadvantages and difficulties arising from, or which cause, the lack of financial or material resources.

2. There can be no absolute definition of what ‘poverty’ might mean since the problems giving rise to poverty are multi-dimensional and cumulative. It can affect individuals and whole communities. It might be experienced on a long or short-term basis.

3. Poverty can both create, and be created by, adverse social conditions, such as poor health and nutrition, and low achievement in education and other areas of human development.

4. The prevention or relief of poverty is not just about giving financial assistance to people who lack money; poverty is a more complex issue that is dependent upon the social and economic circumstances in which it arises. We recognise that many charities that are concerned with preventing or relieving poverty will do so by addressing both the causes (prevention) and the consequences (relief) of poverty.

So the question might be  asked as to whether or not Oxfam fall within this current guidance. It would, I suggest, take an act of the most tortured logic to say that it does not.

It is also, IU think, impossible to claim that a charity is not a charity because an MP does not know what it does.

And to suggest that asking a person to write to their MP, to which Mr Burns has also objected, is political and so not charitable is, again, so perverse it is absurd. It is as if this government wants to impose silence on charities. That, of course, would be an absurd notion until you take the Gagging Law into account, and then you can only wonder.

Is this another part of the neo-feudal agenda? If, as I think, it is, then this suggests where the politics on this issue lie.