The National Children's Bureau was founded more than 40 years ago to support children's emotional and development needs; its founding director, Mia Kellmer Pringle, spoke passionately about attachment theory and the importance of love and security for the very young. Today, the front page of the NCB website carries a plea to the Prime Minister to “keep your promise, Gordon” by ending child poverty. It's hardly what Kellmer Pringle had in mind.No, it’s not.
But she’s not in charge anymore. Now, the charity is in the hands of quite different people, with quite different ambitions.
Not for the charity. For themselves….
Poverty is top of the agenda for children's charities. For wildlife lobbies, the environment is the only game in town. Two years ago the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds seemed about to oppose the proliferation of windfarms on Britain's coastline, when a spokesman expressed concern about white-tailed eagles being killed by wind turbines off Norway. The RSPB was founded in 1889 to prevent the “wanton destruction of birds” , so the sacrifice of a rare species to an expensive and intermittent source of energy looked a legitimate target.Hmm, yes. That’s almost a big an example of chutzpah as PETA campaigning against animal cruelty, while killing 90% of all animals given to them for rehoming….
Last month, however, the RSPB changed tack, announcing that the threat of global warming presented such a danger to the natural world that Britain should accelerate its windfarm building programme; not to do so, said its head of climate change policy, would be a “disaster.” Bird populations will have to take their chances with the turbines, because the RSPB has signed up to the climate change agenda.
So all those little old ladies sending in their annual donations in the hopes of ensuring a future for the blue tits and song thrushes on their garden birdtables should think again. The RSPB doesn’t ‘do’ birds anymore, it does bad science.
Still, at least ‘Save The Children’ campaigns for the poor of the Third World, right?
Yesterday the UK branch of the world's largest independent organisation for children announced that it was distributing £150,000 to British families to help them to pay for “basic essentials”. At £100 or £200 a family, this looks more like a stunt than targeted support. But Colette Marshall, director of UK programmes for the charity, is fishing for a bigger catch, saying that “we are calling for the Government to invest at least £3 billion in the poorest families as a one-off cash injection in this Budget”. Citing US research, she claims that a fiscal stimulus in the shape of payments to the poorest families will have the welcome side-effect of reviving the UK economy. It's a point of view, certainly - but is it the proper remit of an international voluntary organisation whose credibility rests on its ability to fight poverty, disease and death in the Third World?And is it what the people who donate money to them intended?
I suspect the answer is ‘No’:
Because they “command high levels of public trust and confidence”, charities are “uniquely placed” to campaign.You might think so, Jill, but that doesn’t get the management invites to the swankiest parties in town, and the chance to feel important attending conferences with ministers and Bono or Bob Geldof, does it…?
Perhaps the commission should ask itselfif the high levels of trust enjoyed by charities can be maintained in the face of increasing political activism. With confidence in politicians sinking by the hour, surely it is time for the voluntary sector to stand aside from campaigning and focus on helping the needy?
And that’s what it’s really all about, when your charity reaches a certain size and ‘brand recognition’.
In addition, as Ross points out, they won’t really need all those public donations soon...