Fat cat charities have forgotten their principles

Published by The Times (26th June, 2020)

Another day, another scandal involving a big charity. This time it is the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), whose bosses and trustees failed to protect children from cruelty, harm and medical failures in a Coventry residential school.

The revelations, which led to departure of the chief executive and four trustees, are very sad. This organisation helped my family during a crisis, and my daughter with complex needs attended a superb RNIB school. Yet other children suffered when their families trusted this famous organisation.

The tarnishing of another household name charity, however, is not surprising. Again it involves safeguarding, just as with Oxfam and Save the Children. Once more we hear the familiar chorus of apologies, pledges to address failings, promises to learn lessons.

Yet the problems are systemic in a sector corrupted by cash. Too many charity behemoths have become lucrative corporate brands, run by self-serving executives who focus on fundraising and forget their founding principles. Many charities have also become reliant on state funding, so they suck up to their political paymasters, silence whistleblowers and pay lip-service to those they claim to serve.

They believe the lucrative brand must be protected at all costs. This is how aid charities covered up sex abuse while posing as protectors of the poor and needy. Others stay silent on corruption. They ignore failings while handing hefty salaries to their chiefs. The former foreign secretary David Miliband gets almost $1 million a year in pay and benefits as boss of the International Rescue Committee, even as he demands more funding for his pet causes.

Similar problems occur in the disability sector. Take the National Autistic Society, which campaigns against abusive detention of people with autism and learning disabilities. Last year it apologised after one of its care homes in Somerset was closed following the abuse and humiliation of people with complex needs. Now one of its schools in Essex is to shut after Ofsted warned of ineffective safeguarding. “Too many pupils do not feel safe,” said the watchdog. The bulk of the society’s income comes from the state.

The green activist George Monbiot has accused conservation charities of collaborating in environmental damage over a housing scheme between Cambridge and Oxford. The same issue keeps flaring up: big charities, founded with noble intentions, cuddle up to money and power as they grow bigger and richer. They start by proffering solutions but end up part of the problem.

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