Charities appear to have inadvertently found themselves in the middle of a media nightmare at the moment, all because of a valiant effort to defend their income and thereby the valuable services they provide for their beneficiaries.
I’m referring to the increasingly messy, and actually quite dangerous, growing debate which has been sparked by George Osborne’s tax relief cap announcement in the budget. In a nutshell, charities are against this cap, saying it will make donating more expensive and could therefore significantly reduce their income.
And I call the current situation a ‘media nightmare’ because somehow the charity sector has found itself on one side of a debate which has seen some of the most outspoken elements of both the left and right united on the opposite side, even if for different reasons.
Some on the left, exemplified this week for example by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee in this piece, have happily seized on the opportunity to lay into the rich and the way they utilise charitable giving to dodge tax (indeed, how very dare Earl what’s-his-face give millions to a charity rather than buy himself a fourth yacht).
And on (what certainly looks like) the right, exemplified this week for example by editor-in-chief for MoneyWeek Merryn Somerset Webb in this quite unbelievable tirade against the voluntary sector, many have used this as an excuse to lay into charities, questioning the usefulness of their work and why on earth they should be subject to any relief at all.
But what few people (apart from the voluntary sector itself with it’s Give it back, George campaign) seem to be bothering to do with any great strength at the moment is shout about the wonderful work the vast, vast majority of the charity sector does, and explain that to do this work it needs money.
What if, God forbid, one of these journalist’s family members got cancer and because Marie Curie had lost out on a load of big private donations over the past few years (the problem with this cap is not just that charities get less per big donation, but that the rich will potentially give a lot less in the first place now), there wasn’t enough to fund a nurse to look after that person?
Or what if one of these journalists lived in an area where their local community organisation had to shut down, and slowly the threads that quietly held the most vulnerable parts of that community together started to unravel?
Oh and to Toynbee and others of a similar disposition on this, I don’t think that the family of the cancer victim needing Marie Curie, or the community benefitting from the invaluable work of the local group really care that the money used to pay for these services came from a rich banker, and that it took a £100 dinner to get her to give £10,000. I think they are just happy that someone decided to give this money away, be that for whatever reason it was, rather than keep it for themselves.
Yes, there are a few charities out there that should not fall under this label at all and the policing of the sector could of course be better. But, as we all know, real life doesn’t actually reflect the pages of the Daily Mail, and truthfully for every organisation that perhaps is a charity and should not be, I bet you could easily find at least 1,000 that are charities and fully deserve this status and the benefits this entails. We should not potentially disable all the good ones just because we’ve found five examples of bad ones.
Also, on the ridiculous argument that all our tax should stay with the government rather than being thwarted off to a load of ‘dangerous charities’, since when did the government spend tax-payers’ money exactly how we would all like it to?
This is the very worst time for the government to be potentially devastating the income of hundreds of organisations without which all of our lives would be unrecognisably worse.
The point is, whether you agree with tax relief for charities or not, (and I for one do – it’s not like the state is going to start doing this invaluable work instead and the vast majority of our population do not give anything like enough to charities but would be more than happy to benefit from their services if the circumstances warranted it) there are thousands of amazing organisations that have become used to this income, and whose donors have become used to this relief, and without it they could be seriously crippled.
Until at the very least a suitable way of offsetting any major funding damage such a measure could do to the sector, it would be utter madness to go ahead with this cap.
And right now, when the country is in a complete mess and it needs charities more than ever, and while charities are facing potentially billions of pounds of other funding cuts, this is not the time to risk going forward with a measure like this and just hoping for the best.
By Sophie Hudson