Tania Mason: Alarm bells must be sounded in time

14 Mar 2024 Voices

It is quite astonishing that communities secretary Michael Gove has chosen to defund the Inter Faith Network of the UK, writes Tania Mason...

By Pixel-Shot/ Adobe

The Israel-Palestine war might be happening 2,000 miles away, but its toxic consequences are fuelling hatred and division on our shores too – and particularly between communities which identify with certain religions. So you might have thought that a UK-based charity that builds bridges between various faith groups would be really useful right now – essential, even.

So it is quite astonishing that communities secretary Michael Gove has chosen to defund the Inter Faith Network of the UK (IFN), an organisation that has been promoting understanding and cohesion between communities of different faiths for 37 years. Gove is outraged that one of IFN’s trustees is associated with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an organisation with which the UK government has had a policy of non-engagement since 2009 (started under Labour in response to claims that it supported violence against Israel). Yet the MCB is not a proscribed organisation and has not been accused of any illegal activity. As a result of its grant being withdrawn, the charity has now announced its closure, and expects to have wound up by 15 April.

Other commentators have already written eloquently about the travesty of the government making funding decisions based on ideology and personal biases, and this is indeed a dangerous precedent. I am aware that other charities with similar funding models are feeling nervous, particularly those that work with groups of people that the government hasn’t always seen as deserving of support.

I have also seen comments suggesting that IFN ought to bear some of the blame itself, for not diversifying its income streams. But as the IFN itself pointed out in a statement online, infrastructure bodies are not sexy causes and find it almost impossible to raise funds from other sources. And, as Directory of Social Change CEO Debra Allcock Tyler succinctly added, “When charities are picking up the pieces of public policy failures it is surely right to expect government support?”

IFN is not the only charity to have announced its closure this year. The House of St Barnabas (HOSB) has closed its doors after 162 years of supporting homeless people in central London. The organisation finally succumbed to the cumulative impacts of Covid, the mounting costs of running its Soho members’ club, and a ceiling collapse. It is unlikely to be the last charity to go under – speakers at Civil Society’s recent ESG Imperative conference said that they expected further charity failures this year as the dire economic situation continues to bite.

There is no silver bullet to rescue all charities facing such situations. But a charity CEO I was speaking to recently made a valid point: Why do we only hear about these cases when they are already too far down the line to be saved? Why haven’t they been kicking up a public fuss, ringing the warning bells, crying for help? As the pandemic showed, when the chips are down the sector is pretty good at pulling together, digging deep and lifting up others.

The government grant that was withheld from IFN totalled just £200,000; the deficit posted by HOSB in March last year £450,000. The collective net assets of the 100 charitable foundations that were assessed for the Foundation Practice Rating this year amount to a whopping £61.6bn – between them, they could have saved both of these charities 94,769 times over. But saviours can only come galloping in on their white steeds if the alarm bells are sounded in time. It may be too late for IFN and HOSB, sadly, but there may be a lesson here for other charities that find themselves in similar crises.

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