Debra Allcock Tyler: The evidence shows trust in our sector remains high

So why do I feel there is a James Bond-style conspiracy going on, asks our columnist

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

I love James Bond. I used to daydream about being a secret agent fighting the forces of evil. And reading the latest headlines, I'm excited to see allegations that charities have become villainous. Perhaps my chance has finally come! Apparently they've been undermining public trust by funding terrorism, bullying vulnerable people, paying themselves too much and campaigning against government policies.

So I'm eagerly preparing to visit M to get my secret agent gadgets when I remember that the evidence shows that trust in our sector is pretty high and remarkably stable. The Charity Commission's own figures are that, in 2014 and 2012, the score was 6.7 out of 10, and in 2010 it was 6.6. No matter what nonsense is spouted in the media, the public appears not to lose faith.

Even if it is possible to damage trust in charity as a concept – which, by the way, goes beyond a mere legal form and is an intrinsic part of human psychology – then who is to blame for the damage? In my view, there are two institutions whose leaders have a tendency to make sweeping, irresponsible, ill-judged and incorrect public statements and who appear consistently to do their best to convince the public that charities are toxic. They are the Office for Civil Society under its minister and the Charity Commission under its chair.

First, there is their very public exploitation of a very personal tragedy. I will not name the woman concerned out of respect, but she dedicated her life to supporting charities. Her family has made it clear charities were not culpable for her death, but despite their repeated requests to leave her story out of this negative narrative, it keeps being erroneously highlighted. Shame on those who continue to cite this "case" as some kind of seminal moment for our sector.

Second is the ridiculous notion that large sums of donated money are winging their way to terrorist groups. Where is the evidence to back this up? Any incidences of terrorist involvement in charity are out of all proportion to the statements – especially in the context of the wider level of charitable activity that takes place.

And you wouldn't be blamed for thinking the Office for Civil Society is not briefing or advising the minister very well. His understanding of the sector, to judge from one recent story, appears to come from one constituent who once read a Daily Mail headline about the RSPB not doing any conservation. And who permits press releases about "rogue charities", with no supporting evidence, to be issued from the office? I don't even know what a rogue charity is and I doubt the minister does either. Oooh, is it Spectre?!

If I was a conspiracy theorist I'd be convinced there was plot to bring down charities and limit their power to effect change. But a colleague pointed out that what looks like conspiracy is usually just incompetence. I'm left in the strange position of hoping our minister and the chair of our regulator are indeed Goldfinger and Blofeld in cahoots, because the alternative is more worrying. Plus, my secret agent ambitions will be thwarted if there's no secret cabal plotting the downfall of charities.

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