Comment: The Government's silence is deafening

In the Charity Commission's guidance for registering a charity, 'relief of financial hardship' is in the first group of activities considered to be charitable objectives. Charities and alleviation of poverty have a long, noble relationship.

John Knight
John Knight

Alleviating poverty has historically been the main focus of charitable work. If you think back to what the word 'charity' actually meant centuries ago, it was essentially giving money to the poor and trying to alleviate the financial hardship they faced. If you gave money to the poor, you were considered a charitable person. The word charity in this context can, however, seem insulting.

The meaning of the word has changed somewhat, but can still be based on the continual support of those living in poverty. As a consequence, many charities interpret their traditional role of alleviating poverty in ways that reflect a more active civil society. Charities now look at the causes of poverty and how they can be addressed, the possible routes out of poverty and how people can be supported as they attempt to escape it. Charities now play a key role in the alleviation of poverty by actively campaigning for government action.

This continuation of history in the modern political world is writ large across our sector. Think of the Make Poverty History campaign and the recent coalition of children's charities formed to resuscitate the Government's child poverty programme. Social reformers such as Lord Shaftesbury and Arnold Toynbee would be quietly content.

This tradition continued with the launch of a major report by my own organisation last week: Disability and Poverty in the UK. This report is the bedrock of an open-ended campaign that challenges this and future governments to recognise and act on the poverty experienced by more than three million disabled people. The low level of political investment in this area of social injustice is disgraceful. The silence of this and past governments on this matter will no longer be matched by the silence of disabled people. That I promise.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk@thirdsector@googlemail.com 

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