Helen Martin: We’ve been naive about charities

Big, international organisations such as Oxfam are more like businesses than charities. Picture: Emma Mitchell
Big, international organisations such as Oxfam are more like businesses than charities. Picture: Emma Mitchell
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Accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation by senior Oxfam charity workers have understandably horrified the public.

But the level of disgust and shock may be down in part to our naivety, misplaced trust and lack of cynicism.

Our belief in charity workers as wonderfully kind, moral and compassionate people who devote their lives to helping others and are motivated by goodness, is fair enough when applied to volunteers who have a personal connection with the cause.

If a member of the family has died or suffered as a result of a dreadful medical condition, their loved ones frequently try to raise funds, campaign, or work days in a charity shop towards protecting others from the same fate.

Small charities run almost entirely by volunteers, with just a handful of modestly paid managers at the helm, are often working for causes which are confined only to particular cities, Scotland or the UK, rather than on a global scale. We may never have heard of them.

READ MORE: Minnie Driver steps down as Oxfam ambassador

Animal re-homing charities are prize examples of organisations funded purely by voluntary donations and supported by unpaid volunteers.

It’s the big, international, charities backed by government funding and aid programmes, on which several countries depend to save the lives of human beings, and which need hundreds of millions to function, which don’t deserve our blind faith.

Technically, they may still be “charities”, but although part of “The Third sector”, they differ in terms of employment, chief executives and operations.

Less than half of the UK’s top 100 charities reveal the salaries of their CEOs.

And most of these big outfits pay competitive salaries for employees who have specialised and built their well-paid careers in the charity sector over several decades.

Last year, the UK Government and other public authorities gave over £176 million of tax payers’ money to Oxfam. That alone means it requires close scrutiny and investigation rather than carte blanche to police itself under the banner of do-gooding.

READ MORE: Minister in talks with Oxfam Scotland after prostitution scandal

Large, global charities are in fact “businesses” with income paying for salaries, advertising, properties, lap-tops, smart phones, massive IT systems, staff, travel and all other over-heads before a penny makes it to the front line.

Employees in the field are also working with and for vulnerable people of all ages which we know can be a magnet for predators.

From April 2016 to March 2017, more than 120 workers from a range of charities including Save the Children and Christian Aid were accused of sexual abuse, with at least half being referred to the police.

Oxfam head Dame Barbara Stocking admitted that she “knew for years” sexually exploitative behaviour had been going on at Oxfam.

And the main alleged perpetrator at the centre of this current scandal, career charity man and Oxfam aid chief Roland Van Hauwermeiren, had an established record of sexual exploitation.

Without charities, who would step in to care for the starving, orphaned, injured and needy victims across the world?

We need them. But we need to trust them. And for that, their government funding should be cut and used instead to investigate, prosecute abusers, “police” recruitment and impose stringent controls and complete transparency on their behaviour – which we have to accept, is not all kind, compassionate, moral and motivated by goodness.

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