Hideous hypocrisy of the charity fat cats

Published in The Daily Mail (August 7th, 2013)

Our overseas aid charities work hard to persuade people to hand over their cash. Whether paying for commercials on television, placing stories on the news or putting up posters around towns, they bombard us with plaintive pleas for donations.

The British people respond with  typical generosity, taking old clothes to charity shops, carrying out sponsored events or filling in a form for a small direct debit each month. 

Even amid the economic downturn, this country remains one of the most generous nations in the world for charitable donations. At the same time, the Government pours vast sums of taxpayers’ cash into the pockets of these charities.

So as Justin Forsyth, a former Labour strategist and now the sharp-suited chief executive of Save The Children says, tough questions need to be asked to ensure the nation gets value for money and ‘it is spent in ways which help the poorest most.’

Indeed they do. For the chiefs of some of the best-known charities, who insist they must take your money to tackle global poverty, stand accused of hideous hypocrisy.

It has emerged that for all their noble talk of helping the needy and emotive campaigns against inequality, senior figures in the poverty industry have been quietly pocketing hefty six-figure salaries – sometimes as they presided over falling donations to their organisations. 

The fat cat charity chiefs include Forsyth, whose £163,000 salary means he earns £20,500-a-year more than David Cameron – and nearly seven times the average income of his fellow Britons. He had another £11,610 put in his pension last year – yet still claimed £3,100 for expenses such as for sandwiches and ‘subsistence’ while carrying out his duties.

He was not even the charity’s highest earner – Anabel Hoult took home £181,930 in pay and pension contributions. Another seven staff got six-figure salaries, one more than the previous year. Meanwhile, the bosses of the British Red Cross, Comic Relief, Christian Aid, Action Aid and Oxfam all had significant rises.

These disturbing revelations will be a rude shock to all those big-hearted people who are keeping up donations as their own incomes are squeezed.

Yesterday, as the sector was condemned by the Charity Commission, the accused aid groups resorted to the jaded defence of over-paid corporate plutocrats by saying big salaries were needed to attract talent.

And with no sense of shame, they used the controversy to beg for more for cash. ‘Every donation helps bring babies in Liberia one step closer to a chance of survival. Please give what you can today,’ tweeted Save The Children. No mention of all those six-figure salaries.

These depressing disclosures show how a sector that started out with good intentions has evolved into such an arrogant and corpulent creature, feeding off the public’s decency and our politicians’ desire to cloak themselves in compassion.

Perhaps this is inevitable. These big charities have a track record of persistent failure, yet grew fat from state handouts as successive governments doled out more and more cash for their flawed foreign aid projects.

Britain now gives away a higher proportion of income in aid than any other G8 nation. Despite cuts at home to defence budgets and disability benefits, aid spending is rising by 50 per cent over the course of the Coalition to £11.5billion by the next election.

About £700million a year of this goes straight to charities, ensuring groups such as Save The Children and Oxfam get close to half their income from public funds. Incredibly, £120million is ‘unrestricted’ – meaning it is what one insider called a ‘bung’ going straight into their coffers rather than being remotely project-related.

The huge sums sloshing around the swollen aid sector are the inevitable result of prioritising spending targets over results. Globally, it has become an £80billion industry, employing about 600,000.

Even a think-tank such as the Overseas Development Institute – which gets nearly half its funding from the state – has seen staffing rise from 130 people four years ago to 210 today, recently moving into a snazzy £800,000-a-year office in central London.

Meanwhile, these well-paid charity chiefs cuddle up to their paymasters in Westminster and push their common cause, despite growing public disenchantment at home and abroad with their anachronistic aid policies.

The end result of easy money is massive waste. I have come across charity staff boasting they are ‘doing very nicely financially while fighting poverty.’

These charities give British staff good salary packages that include rent allowances, school fees and health insurance, angering African staff in the same offices on less generous deals. Oxfam even pays income taxes in Kenya – although a spokesman said wages were reduced to compensate. 

Yet even this pales beside the tax-free shopping and salaries, plus first-class flights, given to staff at bodies such as the World Bank and UN as they flit around the world pontificating on poverty eradication.

If aid worked, all these people would have done themselves out of a job many years ago. Instead, we have seen the creation of a self-serving cadre of foreign aid fat cats, who are making poverty history only in their own homes.

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