These UK charity chiefs will roar like lions – when the government says they can

  Peter Limbrick writes: Anushka Asthana reports in the Guardian (30/5/17), ‘One chief executive of a major charity in the social care sector told the Guardian they felt “muzzled” by legislation…’ This has prevented them speaking out about Conservative social care plans that “will literally cost lives”. The Tories stand accused of gagging charities.

A gagging process has three necessary elements; someone who wants to gag someone else, an effective gag of some sort and someone who is willing to be gagged. By ‘willing’ I mean that the charity chief has considered the options and decided keeping quiet is the best policy for whatever reasons. I doubt any chief exec is nailed to the floor with socks stuffed into their mouth.

Some of these charities are multi-million-pound enterprises and it is valid for us to ask if they are capable any longer of fighting the system or if they have, instead, become part of it – while enjoying the privileges that come with being part of the establishment.

There are millions of people of all ages languishing without the support they need; frail elderly people living alone, disabled teenagers leaving care homes, lonely kids with learning disabilities who have left school and find themselves with nothing to do all day, families with disabled young children who exhaust themselves fighting for effective social care and education.

Sadly, the concerned public are fed slops: ‘Vote for us and public services will be able to help all of these people.’ ‘Give us money and our charity will be able to help all of these people.’

I can confidently assert that both of these are empty promises. Do not believe them. They are lies. The ever-increasing number of people in the UK who desperately need help has overwhelmed public services and charities. This will not be remedied for many decades to come – if ever.

The concept of caring activism recognises this plight and invites citizens in any neighbourhood, housing estate, village or refugee camp to support vulnerable people in need on their patch. Allan Sutherland recently reviewed Caring Activism: A 21st century concept of care’ and rightly observed:

What he [Peter Limbrick] describes is actually like the way a number of disability charities have evolved, starting as small groups of parents coming together to provide mutual support and fight for recognition of the needs of a particular group of children.

I was aware of this as I was writing the book. I was also aware of the philosopher Ivan Illich who mistrusts established institutions because they end up working against the philosophy, principles and ambitions of the energetic and committed people who sowed the seeds for them in the first place. In my understanding (using education and health institutions as examples), he argues that years of compulsory schooling can work against true education for inquisitive children and that a national health service can detract from people’s sense of responsibility for their own health and wellbeing – and then leave them stranded and helpless when the doctor is too busy to see them and the hospital too full to take them in.

Is this what has happened to the multi-million-pound charities? Have they deliberately chosen to become beholden to the government of the day instead of trying to remain independent? Are their chief execs powerless to campaign properly because of multifaceted personal and organisational considerations?  Has the fight, determination, bravery (and absence of self-interest) of the original founders got lost along the way? These qualities are still in rich supply in small charities and campaigns – as long as they can resist the temptation of government grants.

Asthana’s article suggests charity chiefs are afraid to speak up in defence of vulnerable people during the run-up to the current general election in case they fall foul of the Electoral Commission. She quotes one charity leader, ‘We are ready to speak out at one minute past midnight on 9th June’ - who then stressed they were too afraid to do so now.

So the plight of the most vulnerable people will not be aired during election debates unless they can do it themselves. Charity chief execs have willingly taken the gag until the arguments are all done – then we will all hear stable doors banging shut with the clip-clop of bolting horses in the distance. This will easily drown out the small roaring of lions.

Peter Limbrick 2/6/17

Your comments welcome.

The Guardian:

Allan Sutherland’s review:

Caring Activism: A 21st century concept of care:

Titles by Ivan Illich:

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