Charities used to represent the pinnacle of philanthropic endeavours but over the last decade or so, their role has appeared to have changed, and I would argue that not for the better. Charities sole aim used to be to help those in need with provision not provided by the state, whether that was financial assistance, services or information. But over time the state took on the responsibility of these services in the name of compassion and employed the charities that were once self-sufficient to run these services as an extension of the civil service.
This means that many charities have simply become 'not-for-profit' businesses, which is an insult of the term considering the amount their senior staff are paid, with six-figure salaries. As big charities move further away from their roots, dumping people who care about the issues they were set up to help and replacing them with corporate suits, their greed has meant they are not satisfied with just providing services as they have turned political.
It is mostly no longer politically correct to argue their cause by patronising the people they supposedly cared about, so there have needed to use campaigning to raise issues. What started as a harmless awareness raising exercise to bring their charity some free publicity has turned into full scale political lobbying with endless amounts of 'research', portraying the situation in the way where their charity is always the saviour.
In examining this so-called research for one moment, we can see how this academic discipline has reached an all-time low. What is now called 'credible' research is a 15 minutes SurveyMonkey questionnaire filled in by self-selected and often angry people who are recruited from an emotive call on social media and distributed to those with a bone to pick. The research is collated and 'analysed' by a fresh graduate with the quality that would receive a C as a piece of GCSE coursework.
After a quick news release from the charity's factory style press office, the research is picked up by the news agencies, desperate to fill their vast websites and 24 hour news channels with something mildly interesting, and presented as earth-shattering revelations to an unsuspecting general public. At a time where disability and other charitable issues are fodder for government bashing, there is a new and unhealthy interdependency between charities and the media.
I would understand if so far you would question if all this makes charities too political since they surely have a right, if not duty, to raise issues? The next revelation may however change your mind. I decided to go to the Labour Party Conference in Manchester this year off my own back, especially after the now infamous events of the previous year, just to see what the fuss was really about. I really enjoyed the day, and one of the biggest things I noticed was how many of the top brass of charities, specifically those I knew in the disability sector, were at the conference 'working'.
On closer examination, you could see that the conference's exhibition and that most of the Fringe Meetings were a charitable who's who! When you imagine this was replicated across all the major party conferences, where the entire top brass of the third sector seem to spend 3 weeks in their year talking non-stop politics, you can begin to understand the role they now play in shaping government policy to suit their empire building.
Unfortunately the general public fails to see how charities have changed from cute animals into vicious monsters, allowing the new relationship between charity and state to grow further unchallenged. It is clear that charities now have a power over shaping government policy that is hard to measure or understand. I must wonder how much influence Oxfam may have in our policy on International Development? or the political power being built up from the rise of Food Banks? I know within my field of expertise, the disability and carer charities have played a big part in shaping the Care Act, and only time will tell who will really benefit from it.
I believe charities have become too political, carefully lobbying government privately and publicly, and that this harms the democratic process. But like most things, it may be too late before the public starts to realise what has been going on and demands the charities are made accountable.