Oxfam, one of Britain’s leading aid charities, is facing an inquiry by the charity watchdog after it criticised the current government austerity measures.
On Twitter, Oxfam posted an image of a faux film poster, with the heading “The Perfect Storm” and the words “Starring zero hour contracts, high prices, benefit cuts, unemployment, childcare costs”.
The accompanying tweet stated: “Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm – and it’s forcing more and more people into poverty”.
Conservative MPs reported Oxfam to the charity watchdog as they regarded their campaign against poverty as ‘politically biased’ against the Conservative government.
However, Oxfam also tweeted: “We think all political parties need to commit to action on food poverty in the UK”. This suggests that Oxfam is not launching a politically biased campaign, as they are suggesting that all political parties are responsible for tackling poverty levels.
Although despite this message, the charity does have links with the Labour Party, suggesting it is politically biased in some way.
Oxfam’s honorary treasurer, David Pitt-Watson, was appointed general secretary of the Labour Party in 2008, but did not take up the post. In addition, Mr Pitt-Watson also advised senior figures in the Labour Party for over 20 years, as well as having the position of Labour’s finance director from 1997 to 1999.
Moreover, a former head of policy at Oxfam, Jo Cox, is Labour’s candidate in the 2015 general election in Batley and Spen, as well as chairman of the Labour women’s network.
Conservative MP Conor Burns tweeted Oxfam directly after the image was posted, stating: “This has lost you a lot of supporters. Very foolish.”
Mr Burns also added: “Many people who support Oxfam will be shocked and saddened by this highly political campaigning in domestic British politics.
“Most of us operated under the illusion that Oxfam’s focus was on the relief of poverty and famine overseas. I cannot see how using funds donated to charity to campaign politically can be in accord with Oxfam’s charitable status.
“For that reason I have asked the Chairman of the Charity Commission to investigate Oxfam as a matter of urgency.”
Priti Patel, Conservative MP for Witham, also commented on the issue, stating she would be asking the Cabinet Office how much money the charity receives every year from the British taxpayer.
Ms Patel said: “Oxfam are behaving disgracefully by misleading the public about Government policies and their political campaigning may be in breach of their charitable remit.
“With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left wing propaganda.
“Members of the public who donate to this charity expecting to see their money spent making a difference to people’s lives are being betrayed while the Government should now review the taxpayer grants given to this organisation.”
However, whilst Conservative MPs continue to make the argument that inequality and poverty has fallen under the current coalition, these remarks are continually disputed by both the opposition and a variety of charities.
For example research which shows that welfare cuts have pushed 1.75 million of the UK’s poorest households deeper into poverty, with numbers of people using food banks increasing by 163% from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014. In addition, research continually shows that disabled people are hit the hardest by benefit cuts, with 78% of disabled people suggesting their health has worsened as a result of the stress of undergoing work capability assessments.
There have been numerous reports into increasing poverty and inequality in the UK under the current government, with a substantial amount of evidence suggesting that government policies are directly contributing to increasing levels of poverty.
Therefore whilst Oxfam’s campaign may potentially be criticised for being ‘politically biased’, it is harder to criticise the research behind their claims, which are supported time and time again, and suggest that the current government’s austerity measures are responsible for increasing poverty levels.
Oxfam responded to criticism from the Conservatives, as Ben Phillips, Oxfam campaigns and policy director stated: “Oxfam is a resolutely non-party political organisation – we have a duty to draw attention to the hardship suffered by poor people we work with in the UK.
“Fighting poverty should not be a party political issue – successive governments have presided over a tide of rising inequality and created a situation where food banks and other providers provided 20 million meals last year to people who could not afford to feed themselves.
“This is an unacceptable situation in one of the world’s largest economies and politicians of all stripes have a responsibility to tackle it.”
It is therefore clear that wherever the blame lies for increasing levels of poverty, inequality and inadequate care and support for disabled people, these issues are not receiving the attention they deserve from the current government, and this has to change.
Written by Poppy Reece