Trussell Trust told ‘the government might try to shut you down’

11 Jun 2014 News

The chair of the Trussell Trust has said that the charity made a decision to tone down its criticisms of the benefit system after someone in power warned them that they could get shut down.

Chris Mould, chair of the Trussell Trust, was giving evidence to the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector yesterday when he said that the charity, which aims to tackle poverty, had been criticised by the government for raising awareness of the need for foodbanks.

He said that he had seen several examples of how “people in power do pretty inappropriate things at times to try and curb and curtail independence of a voluntary organisation when it proves to be inconvenient to them”.

Mould, who made it clear that the charity was not a campaigning organisation, told the panel that most of these examples had arisen in private conversations with those in power.

'Government might try to shut you down'

He said that in a face-to-face conversation in March 2013 with "someone in power", he was told that he must think more carefully otherwise “the government might try to shut you down”.

Mould said: “This was spoken in anger, but is the kind of dialogue that can occur. It exposes the way people think in the political world about their relationship with the voluntary sector when things are getting difficult. What can we do?”

The charity then took the decision to tone down its criticisms so that the government would maintain its contact. Mould said that this decision was a response of a “positive nature”.

He also spoke of another example of when the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions' office contacted him in 2011 in response to publication of the Trussell Trust’s concerns about the benefits system.

Mould said he received a phone call on his day off “from someone in the Secretary of State’s office which was basically to tell me that the boss was very angry with us because we were publicising the concerns we have over the rising number of people who were struggling as a consequence of delays and inefficiencies in the benefits system”.

However Mould, who spoke of “ongoing efforts to belittle the organisation” by the government, said that a decision made by the charity’s trustees in 2005 that they would avoid seeking government funding meant that they were in a better position to resist government pressure.

Mould also spoke of how the charity's commitment to professionalism, including its expanding trustee board which attempts to cover all areas of expertise, and the quality of the statistics it produces, gave the charity more capacity to resist pressure.

Earlier this year, a criticial article by the Daily Mail about the Trussell Trust led to the charity's appeal raising more than £50,000 in two days.

Blanche Jones, campaigns director at 38 degrees, also spoke to the panel yesterday about the reception the organisation receives from politicians.

The campaigning organisation received criticism last year from Conservative MP Peter Bottomley who said that 38 Degrees was one of several organisations whose members were spamming the inboxes of MPs causing them “chaos”.

Jones said that she wished government would see this engagement as a more positive thing, as such comments from MPs contribute to a “growing feeling of disengagement and disempowerment”.

Oxfam reported to Charity Commission

A new political attack on charities was seen yesterday when a Tory MP revealed that he is reporting Oxfam to the Charity Commission for its “perfect storm” promotional campaign on austerity. Conor Burns, Conservative MP for Bournemouth West, said the campaign was "overtly political and aimed at the policies of the current government".