National Autistic Society apologises for tweets about Tory manifesto

25 Nov 2019 News

The National Autistic Society has apologised and deleted a series of tweets responding to the Conservative Party election manifesto, after criticism from some its members.

The charity tweeted on Sunday that it was “pleased” to see the Conservatives pledge to invest more money in community care and improve mental health laws affecting autistic people.

A further tweet stated that “both these commitments are really important steps to putting a stop to the autism mental health inpatient crisis,” although it also criticised the party’s failure to present detailed plans on funding social care.

However, the tweets were deleted this morning after some members of the National Autistic Society prepared an open letter arguing that the comments represented an endorsement of Conservative policies.

The letter, which was organised by Janine Booth, a member of the charity and a campaigner and trainer on autism rights, complained that the tweets represented “unacceptable bias”. She said that the Society had not addressed other political parties’ policies in the same detail.

Booth is also a Labour Party campaigner.

The letter continued: “You have not only breached the responsibility of charities to not endorse, or seem to endorse, a political party, you have also deeply hurt and damaged the trust of many autistic people who have been harmed by Conservative policies whose interests you claim to serve.” 

It also warned that the matter would be raised with the Charity Commission “if this is not resolved in a satisfactory manner”.

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We have received a complaint about social media activity by the National Autistic Society, which will be assessed in line with our usual processes.”

The letter had been signed by more than a hundred and fifty people by the end of this morning, including dozens of members of the charity and people living with autism. 

National Autistic Society: 'We are very sorry for this mistake'

Jane Harris, the director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “We have deleted a tweet from our account about the Conservative manifesto yesterday. In that tweet we were aiming to give our supporters more information about what was positive in this manifesto for autistic people and what wasn’t as good.
“Even though we have been tweeting about all the manifestos, we hadn’t given the same detail for all of them. This wasn’t right and we are very sorry for this mistake. As a charity we are politically neutral. We will comment on all parties’ policies in the general election with impartiality and work with all parties to make society work for autistic people.”

The decision comes amid ongoing concerns that confusion about the rules governing how charities can behave during election campaigns might prevent organisations from speaking out on behalf of their beneficiaries.

Earlier this month, a group of charities wrote to the leaders of the main political parties arguing for reform of the Lobbying Act, which they claimed threatens to restrict charities’ rights to represent the most vulnerable in society. 

Last month the Charity Commission wrote to charity trustees to remind them of their responsibilities during a general election campaign. The regulator wrote: “It is legitimate and healthy for charities to speak up for the causes they serve. But appearing to take a political position on either side could risk undermining public confidence in charity as something special.”

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