Poncey political grandstanding

The international aid charity Save the Children – best known for its work with starving youngsters in Africa – has launched its first domestic fundraising appeal, asking the public to dip into their pockets to help UK families plunged into poverty by cuts and the recession.

The charity is seeking to raise £500,000 to help children across the UK, many from low-paid working families, who it says are going without hot meals, new shoes and winter clothes, and missing out on school trips, toys and treats because their parents cannot afford the rising cost of living.

The overheads
will be more than 100% of the sum they\’re trying to raise.

Add in hte costs of HQ staff dreaming this up, the costs of the actual campaign, collection then distribution of the money, then off the £500,000 raised precisely nothing will end up with the poor.

Oh, sure, some poor people will get something but that will be from other funds that have been diverted to pay those overhead costs.

It\’s political grandstanding, no more.

Save the Children is calling on ministers to stick to 2020 child poverty targets, encourage more employers to adopt the living wage currently set at between £7.20 and £8.30 an hour, provide extra childcare support for low-income parents, and modify the planned universal credit welfare system to allow parents to keep more of their earnings before benefits are withdrawn.

It\’s just a manner of sidestepping the rules about charities campaigning for political goals.

17 thoughts on “Poncey political grandstanding”

  1. As a matter of fact (alien to the Grauniad) one of the main planks of the Universal Tax Credit is that it allows workers to keep more of every extra £ that they earn.
    Secondly, the couple cited by the Grauniad should be entitled to Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. So why aren’t they getting them? Or is the example utterly misleading because the Grauniad are hiding about one-third of their income?

  2. Instances like this do make one wonder if there shouldn’t be some sort of ‘primary purpose, rule for maintaining charitable status. For example, if Save the Children claims its primary purpose is to put food into starving children’s mouths, then more than x% must be shown to be doing exactly that.
    Is there any reason for campaigning groups to have charitable status at all? What exactly is the difference between campaigning & advertising? To be cruel, what is the difference between a group advocating better facilities for the disabled to a group advocating more people buy a brand of washing powder? OK, that’s an extreme example, but it serves to concentrate the mind for when you get down into the murky grey areas like environmental advocacy & single issue pressure groups. Charity, small ‘c’, is a laudable notion, but when the Charity, very big ‘C’, is spending 90% of its income on its own administration, fund raising & advocacy, is it still really & charity or a vehicle for providing its own employment?

  3. @bis: afaik, there actually is a “primary purpose” rule for charities; the trouble is that the Charity Commission (nowadays a NuLab-dominated entity) doesn’t enforce it. At one time, Shelter was denied charity status because it was merely a campaigning organisation. Those days are gone.

  4. Yes, that particular organisation was in my mind when I made the comment. I was very much shall we say aware of some of the people involved in its early days I had a distinct impression this was some canny people latching on to a genuine issue & doing themselves no harm in the process. There was some cross-over with ‘squatting’ groups at the time & it was miraculous how certain people got to live in some remarkably nice places. One in particular got himself ensconced in a delightful des-res which he kept for many years, despite a lucrative acting career. He was eventually ‘bought out’ for a very health sum

  5. “The overheads will be more than 100% of the sum they’re trying to raise.”

    Do you have any actual evidence for this assertion, Tim? Or does it just stand to reason guv?

    One of the more tedious aspects of working in the charity sector* is the unevidenced horseshit occasionally dumped on you by people whose sophisticated cynicism about how charities function is in inverse proportion to their actual experience of the sector. This sounds like more of the same, but if you’ve actually had sight of the business plan (charities do make them, you know) behind this campaign, or have any actual data to support your assertion, it would be really interesting (unprecedented in fact) to see it.

    Other highlights from this round of charity myth bingo: campaigning doesn’t help beneficiaries; some (unspecified – always unspecified) charities spend all their money on themselves; it’s always unjustifiable to pay for staff; having an HQ, or any kind of governance, is a moral failure as opposed to a necessity for any organisation; and last of course the evergreen notion that people working for charities can’t count.

    So go onTim – show your working.

    (*My views are of course my own, and not those of my employer. As ever.)

  6. @ Andrew R
    I sympathise – when I was Hon Treasurer of a handful of charities quarter-of-a-century ago they had nil administrative expenses but all those I currently support do have administrative expenses – and some full-time staff even get paid enough to feed themselves because otherwise they might starve.
    However if you look at the advertising budget for a national campaign, including paying child actors to pretend that they are cold and hungry when fatter than I or no 1 son or (judging from photos) my Dad was at that age, compared to the amount that SCF says it plans to raise, there is a prima facie case for Tim’s comment. As PST has mentioned Guido points out that the campaign is being launched by Gordon Brown’s spin doctor.

  7. John77>

    Spot on. It’s also evident that they haven’t mentioned that the dad isn’t working full-time – £6 per hour * 40 hours is £240, not £180. According to a couple of job ads I found whilst trying to find out where he works, I think he only works four hours a day.

    Also, given where the Menzies depot is, he is only spending an hour a day cycling to work (assuming he lives in Ellesmere as claimed) if he rides round in circles for 50 minutes or so before going to work. A normal, non-strenuous average speed on a bike is at least 10mph, and most people who commute by bike daily go a lot quicker than that. Ellesmere’s not big enough for him to be more than a couple of miles away at most.

    The £1k loan taken out for furniture for a two-bed flat and a bike seems more than just excessive – it’s ridiculous given the couple’s situation. You can furnish an entire flat at Ikea with new stuff for under £500 – half that or less if willing to go second-hand – and even if the guy can’t get on the cycle to work scheme, you can pick up a decent, functional bike for £50.

    Also, looking at a map – I’ve never been there – it seems an extremely dubious claim to say that the nearest park is 1.5 miles away. By the look of things nowhere in Ellesmere Port is more than a few hundred yards from some open green space, although perhaps if you don’t include, I don’t know, recreation grounds, playing fields, and other not-technically-parks open spaces, then you can claim that somewhere is. Apart from anything else Ellesmere Port is surrounded by green fields, and it’s not big enough for anywhere to be more than about half a mile away from them.

    In any case, I can’t see for the life of me why a 1.5 mile walk, with or without a pram, is a problem for anyone able-bodied. If she was walking with a just-older-than-toddler too big for a pushchair, it would be different, but with a baby in a pram?

    Basically, the ‘case study’ is just a series of lies. I put the circumstances as described in the article into the government benefits calculator – taking the answers which would give lowest entitlement to benefits where the situation was unclear – and it reckons the couple should have total income of £320 per week, consisting of £171 wages (after £9 tax) and £150 benefits. That doesn’t include housing or council tax benefit which I suspect they’re also entitled to claim, at least in part. Doing the maths, for the Graun’s figures to be true, they must be spending £140 a week on utility bills.

  8. I’ve worked as a fundraiser for charities, dealing with finance side too. Amuses me when people have the idea that charities should have no administrative expenses.
    Usually find BT, Viking/Staples etc all want paying. As do landlords, energy suppliers, insurance companies, even security companies.
    A good charity finds ways to cover its overheads, including staffing – there are limits to what volunteers can be expected to do.
    As a volunteer I can be expected to perhaps do 3 hours a week work for a charity. At busy times or when something else comes up that 3 hours can disappear – as an employee the hours expected would be much longer and no declining to do the work a particular week.
    Pay the bills and can put the hours in. If needing to pay the bills with other activity the charity work cannot come first for many people.

  9. Andrew R>

    Taking Oxfam as an example – and they’re far from the worst offender – they have income of £350 million a year, and spend £100 million a year directly on staff. That doesn’t include the staff costs of their actual charitable work, just what their admin staff costs. They don’t present accounts for their overseas programmes, so it’s impossible to tell how much of that money goes to staff.

    The headline figure, carefully obscured, is that around £125 million a year actually goes to charitable causes, but that includes programme staffing costs and so-on. It’s impossible to find out how much of their income actually ends up going to poor people, but a reasonable guess is around a quarter.

  10. @ Dave
    Delivering newspapers to newsagents has to be completed before 7 a.m. when the kids take them out so 4 hours a day is perfectly reasonable. Your question should be why doesn’t he take another part-time job in the late morning/early afternoon?
    I’m not going to complain about the £1k loan for furniture – I had to insure the furniture given me by my grandmother when I first rented an unfurnished flat for more than £1k and the RPI has more than doubled since then. My views on IKEA are unprintable, and in the long term it gives lousy value for money even ignoring the residual value of furniture after 100 years.

  11. John>

    I didn’t say he was shirking – just that it was presented as if he was working full time when he evidently isn’t.

    As for furniture, I recently helped a skint friend furnish an entire house (including white goods and a decent-size TV) for the price of a day’s van hire and petrol, just going around and collecting freebies. A very small amount of money can get you some pretty decent secondhand furniture.

    I agree with you about the longevity of some Ikea furniture – some of it’s not bad at all – but that’s the same for everything poor people have to buy. Once you factor in the cost of the loan, I expect the Ikea stuff actually offers better value for money than decent long-lasting stuff. An unsecured loan to people with no money is likely charging at least 15 or 20 percent a year, which is £150 or £200. Make do, save up, buy one piece of decent furniture every now and again – not exactly rocket science.

  12. Martin Davies:

    “As a volunteer I can be expected to perhaps do 3 hours a week work for a charity. At busy times or when something else comes up that 3 hours can disappear – as an employee the hours expected would be much longer and no declining to do the work a particular week.”

    So what’s the difference between your “charity” and a normal company? That you provide “socially valuable” things (thus implying that companies do not)?

  13. @ Dave

    Where are you gettting your figures from?

    Oxfam’s latest accounts (see Charity Commission website) say their UK staff costs are £50m not £100m. This includes “actual charitable work”

    Total support costs – i.e. including your admin staff costs – were £26.8m. Your figure is out by a factor of 4. If it were a guess, fine but you presented it as fact. What was your source?

    From their total income of £360m they spent £270m on charitable activity – so 3/4, not the 1/4 you state so confidently. The distinction you attempt to draw between “paying people to help beneficiaries” and “helping beneficiaries” is completely factitious. It’s exactly like asking “How much do we spend on digging metal out the ground, if you don’t count the wages of the miners?”

    In general the point here is that the accounts for all charities can easily be found on the charity commission’s website. And yet people continually bandy around figures that bear no relation to reality. Figures which, perhaps coincidentally, seem to justify not giving to charity.

    If anyone’s interested in how to be an effective donor, and what kind of questions to ask of charities before deciding to donate or not, I can recommend Caroline Fiennes excellent “It’s Not What You Give, It’s The Way That You Give It.”

    She’s a got a piece on the question of admin costs here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/voluntary-sector-network/2012/apr/23/charity-administration-course-giving-evidence

    For me, this is the vital point:

    “The question assumes that charities’ primary effect is depleting the resources they’re given, and impact only arises from what’s left. Clearly this isn’t what happens at all: the charity’s machinery involves adding value to the resources they receive, for example through bringing in volunteers, getting bulk discounts on the purchase of equipment and supplies, and through their experience of what works.”

  14. Andrew> I was basing it off Oxfam’s last published accounts. You have to watch the pea under the thimble, though, because they’re good at obscuring things. They spend most of their income keeping the charity going, and only a relatively small percentage on actual aid.

  15. Oxfam’s staff costs in the year to March were £59.5m in the UK and £42.3m overseas, total £101.8m.

    It spend £76m on humanitarian activities and gave £35.4m in grants. It spend £83.2m in development activities and gave £50m in grants. Support costs (which are not included in those figures) were £22.1m.

    All this in their annual report. Perhaps Dave could tell us how those numbers relate to his figure of £125m.

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