This is the second guest article from Fiona and once again deals with issues rarely discussed but of huge importance to society. Once again I found this article to be of considerable educational worth and I am pleased to be able to feature it on this blog. Charity begins at home Some years ago atContinue reading "CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME"


This is the second guest article from Fiona and once again deals with issues rarely discussed but of huge importance to society. Once again I found this article to be of considerable educational worth and I am pleased to be able to feature it on this blog.

Charity begins at home

Some years ago at a seminar being run by a disability charity, I confronted a lone civil servant who seemed to have a more sympathetic character than those I’d previously encountered. I told her about the cruel treatment meted out to a family whose autistic son was in a mental hospital. Her response was telling – “We keep seeing the same people.” What she meant was that civil servants, when looking for representation on disability issues, always choose to speak to charities. You might think that that’s just the way it has to be, because these charities pool expertise and act as representatives of people with various disabilities. Some have been established for a long time, so are seen as a fixture, a reliable source of information for politicians, the elected government, the permanent government (the civil service) and associated quangos – those who form the core of the political classes. Indeed, the larger charities that form the bulk of the charitable / voluntary/ Third Sector have become increasingly interwoven with the political classes, ever since Margaret Thatcher decided to make an example of Oxfam, who were audacious enough to campaign to Free Frontline Africa against the military terrorism of Apartheid South Africa. Thatcher was smart enough to know that where she used a stick, she needed to use a carrot as well. She didn’t want Oxfam to criticise her foreign policy, so she decided to use her government’s leverage as well as change the law to make it harder for charities to campaign on `political` issues.

Since that time, and especially since the Blair government, the charitable, or `Third Sector` as it is often called, has been embraced as part of the fabric of government – providing services and policy-making for governments who, in turn, provide them with the funds to run those services and the good press to mollify the public who ultimately provide those funds. In short, the charitable sector has been domesticated and de-horned. But there is another aspect to this relationship, and that is the expansion of jobs in the political classes and the incestuous nature of the relationships that this creates, when careers are dependent on job-hopping from charity to charity to government agency to local authority to civil service to (sometimes) becoming a politician, SPAD or party researcher /assistant. Aspiring politicians have a ready made training ground. Failed politicians can find a home and an income with a charity. Yes, some politicians come from business, the professions and even the unions but, make no mistake, the `Third Sector` is now embedded within the United Kingdom’s body politic and especially so within that of Scotland.

The Scottish Constitutional Convention envisaged that `civic society` in Scotland should be involved in the new Scottish Parliament – but it never defined what that actually meant. That is just the problem, because some charities have essentially become state agencies, through the control exerted by funding and the career paths offered within the political classes. If a charity gleans 89.1% and 98.6% funding through provision of services – as did the National Autistic Society (NAS) and Scottish Autism respectively some years ago – neither their criticism nor their activity can afford to breach certain acceptable limits. 

The definition of `voluntary organisation` is that the majority of the board of such an organisation must be volunteers – it certainly does not mean that the organisation is led or staffed by volunteers. 

Third Sector organisations can often have interconnecting boards – the same personnel can and do crop up in several boards of charities. The requirement to be financially `prudent` has resulted in too many business types undoubtedly spreading their culture within the charitable sector and having far too much influence over the nature of activity and the overall direction of the charitable sector. It is widely acknowledged that `philanthropy` has a distorting effect on charities and the public services they provide. 

In previous years, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has noted the sometimes fierce competition between charities for government funding. Too often, it is the larger charities who can afford to fight off the competition, but not necessarily because their services are better. 

Where charities such as the NAS set themselves up as standards organisations, providing `accreditation`, this brings in more money, but permits the continuing absence of national standards of competence for autism services. Without standards, autism specific services are a pipedream. NAS accreditation is paid for by other service providers, but is largely based on self-assessment.

The Third Sector are not subject to FOI requests, except where specific information is sought about a service they provide. However, they are included in datasharing arrangements under GIRFEC, which means that they are written into the cradle-to-grave surveillance of the younger generations. They know about your children, but you can’t even find out how much their senior executives are paid, nor how much money they extract from the private sector through whatever means, nor what influence they exert on behalf of business (because, of course, they are not covered by lobbying regulation, either). That influence can be as much about what charities don’t say, as what they do. 

The chief executive of Barnardos in Scotland and Northern Ireland was chair of the Scottish Government’s GIRFEC committee, even though Barnardos and other charities have a direct interest in data-sharing through their provision of services, such as Barnardo’s adoption agency services. Barnardos were a main mover behind the Named Person legislation, with their then policy officer, Mark Ballard, persuading the Scottish Greens to back what some party members thought was an `un-green` policy, in terms of its authoritarian potential.  Ballard has since moved on to Children 1st, where he will now have even more scope to influence government policy, when the Scottish Government carries out its promise to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law. The Scottish Greens have a disproportionate number of influential activists who are employed in the voluntary sector.

If you are one of the organisations choosing the data to glean from the system, you have an overarching power in how that system is perceived and judged. You can engage in a cover-up that no-one will ever see. You need not even go as far as losing or destroying records of employees which would help to establish criminality, such as child abuse

Indeed, you can always claim that abuse is the result of bad employees, rather than bad practices bred by bad management.

Few of those commenting on the Named Person provision within the Children and Young People Act 2014 were aware that there were already Named Persons in Scotland, but that these were chosen by the parents of children with special educational needs, to support their right to obtain appropriate education for their child. The 2014 Act actually abolished this parental right, in preparation for the introduction of Named Persons for all children. None of the charities raised any objections to the scrapping of this right, nor highlighted the fact that the choice of Named Person no longer lay with parents, but with local authorities – the very authorities that parents must challenge, if they do not believe that their child’s education is appropriate to their needs.

There is another `Named Person` designation, specified within the Mental Health Act. It is a role that is often filled by a parent, especially where the patient has a Learning Disability or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The latest version of the Mental Health Act has downgraded the role of the Named Person, at the bidding of a section of people promoted by the mental health charities, with no thought or consideration for people with Learning Disabilities and ASDs who rely on the support of their parents to fight their battles with the system, and who are overwhelmingly discriminated against within that system, in terms of time spent in it and the damage done to their health and longevity. 

Politicians very much expect to be able to restrict their efforts in understanding disability and mental health issues to communication with the relevant charities. This was perfectly illustrated to me some years ago when I undertook to mount a small protest outside the Scottish parliament. Of the few MSPs that came within range, I managed to engage one in conversation, but he almost aggressively asked me whether I had contacted the 2 big autism charities in Scotland. He took a step back at my response: “My son’s a human being, not a charity case.” I wasn’t insulting charities, but I was offended at the assumption that representation of my son should be filtered by a charity for his consumption. 

I hope that I have given at least a partial explanation above of the means by which policy capture takes place. The closed loop created by those inhabiting the political classes has both enabled and buttressed the bypassing of party democracy. It is perfectly natural to include `stakeholders`, such as charities, in forming public policy, but they should not be included to the detriment of unfunded, grassroots groups and knowledgeable individuals who can make useful contributions independent of the influence of power networks. The dominant public discourse offers unenforceable `rights` to individuals and families as a sop for authoritarian control, whilst colluding to protect public and private institutions from shouldering responsibility for their own actions. It is significant that, while charities may very well give trenchant criticism of temporary review bodies, they never refer to the sometimes egregious behaviour of public servants in local or central government.


Maggie Mellon

To get justice in Scotland, you must be rich or popular

23 January 2019

I am Yours for Scotland

Fiona Sinclair.