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Tory MP reports Oxfam to Commission for being too political

11 Jun 2014 News

A Conservative MP has reported Oxfam to the Charity Commission for being “overtly politicial” over a campaign against food poverty in Britain.

A Conservative MP has reported Oxfam to the Charity Commission for being “overtly politicial” over a campaign against food poverty in Britain.

Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, wrote to William Shawcross, chair of the Commission, complaining about the Oxfam campaign.

But Oxfam said is not “party political” to draw attention to rising hunger and inequality in Britain.

On Monday Oxfam published a report, Below the Breadline, along with Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust, and launched a Breadline Britain campaign, which calls for social security reform, research into food banks, an increase in the minimum wage, and a review of zero-hours contracts. It asked supporters to email their MP backing the campaign.

It published a series of tweets in support of the campaign, including an image called “The Perfect Storm”.

In his letter Burns said the campaign was “overtly political and aimed at the policies of the current government”.

Burns later said: “Many people who support Oxfam will be shocked and saddened by this highly political campaigning in domestic British politics.

“Most of us operated under the illusion that Oxfam's focus was on the relief of poverty and famine overseas.

“I cannot see how using funds donated to charity to campaign politically can be in accord with Oxfam's charitable status.”

Burns was backed by Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, who told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning that it was “not right” for charities to campaign on political issues.

“It’s not what donors give money for and it’s not what they get the tax break for,” he said.

He said that instead, Oxfam should concentrate on its work “on the front line” in other countries.

Oxfam responds

But Oxfam said it was not being party political.

“We have a duty to draw attention to the hardship suffered by poor people we work with in the UK,” said Ben Phillips, campaigns and policy director at Oxfam.

“Fighting poverty should not be a party political issue - successive governments have presided over a tide of rising inequality and created a situation where food banks and other providers provided 20 million meals last year to people who could not afford to feed themselves.

“This is an unacceptable situation in one of the world's largest economies and politicians of all stripes have a responsibility to tackle it.”

Charity Commission “has received complaint”

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said her organisation had received a complaint about Oxfam “raising concerns that it breached the rules for charities on campaigning”.

“The complainant has not specified the material to which they object and so we will be contacting them for further information before determining whether there is any cause for regulatory concern here,” the spokeswoman said.

She said the Commission was also “aware of concern relating to a tweet by the charity” and that it was “assessing whether it raises any regulatory concern”.

She said: “Charities are often the most appropriate organisations to speak out and campaign on behalf of their users. From lobbying politicians to running online petitions, charities can engage in a range of activities to support their charity’s aims.

“But charities must never be politically biased or support a politician.”

Charity umbrella bodies back Oxfam

Asheem Singh, director of policy at Acevo, said that Oxfam had “unequivocal support” and that “any charity which sees injustice must be free to speak out about it”.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy at NCVO, said the right to campaign should be defended, and that speaking out on such issues was “more a duty than a right”.

Joe Irvin, chief executive of NAVCA, said that Oxfam “must not succumb to an attempt to bully charities into silence” and that this was an opportunity to defend charities’ right to campaign.