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Charities political role vital for democracy

16 October 2006

Charities political role vital for healthy democracy

The Government should re-think the moves it has set in train to strip charities of their tax exempt status from February 2007 if they become too active in political advocacy, Green Party Social Development Spokesperson Sue Bradford says.

"The Government is trying to force charities into a 19th century mould of voluntary work. Caring for the victims is essential work. But so is speaking out on their behalf, and highlighting the conditions that have helped create their situation.

"The Green Party voted against the Charities Commission Bill. It should not be up to the members of this Government appointed panel to decree when a charity has stepped over the line in criticising Government policy, and then punish them financially for doing so.

"Charities have always had a political dimension..That includes the Christian churches as well, who have had a call to political activism ever since their founder threw the money lenders out of the Temple.

"What this measure is saying is that charities should be primarily passive - an ambulance at the foot of the cliff, and only rarely a voice for building a fence at the top..

"Clearly, the Government is trying to foster a climate of self-intimidation, whereby charities will be made too timid to speak out, lest they suffer the financial consequences. This could end up robbing some of the most vulnerable people in society of what will often be their only champion.

"Organisations should be assessed for what they are, not the actions they sometimes pursue. A charity is a non-profit body formed for a stated purpose. This can include advocacy which - at some times, such as when the Anglican Church supported the hikoi of hope - will have a highly visible political dimension..

"The Anglicans are, after all, sometimes called the Tory Party at prayer. Should the Anglicans too, now be feeling under threat of losing their tax exempt status ? Or - more likely - would the Charity Commission be more inclined to pick on smaller, more vulnerable charities for selective punishment?

"In a democracy, the Government should not be in the business of selecting who can, and can't financially afford to criticise it. Charities assist in many ways, and they routinely temper the mistakes made by politicians and bureaucrats. The Government should be in the business of encouraging such generosity, not trying to muzzle its expression."


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