Taxes, unions, and sock puppet charities

Government must stop the brainless routine of paying groups to lobby it for yet more money

Where is the sense in government paying to be lobbied?
Guy Bentley
On 5 March 2013 16:40

Yesterday the public sector trade union Unison released a statement claiming that the government’s decision to cut the 50p tax rate translated into such a dramatic loss for the treasury that the uncollected revenue could have increased child benefit for 12 million children.

Ignoring the fallacy of government 'handing' vast sums of money to the rich, and the obvious points associated with the Laffur Curve, what was interesting was the way in which the Huffington Post reported this story:

“The study comes as the Daycare Trust and Family and Parenting Institute found just one in five local authorities have enough childcare for parents with children under two, and one in three for school age children.”

Having never heard of these institutions (which, it turns out, had recently merged), I thought it best to put to use the miracle of our age – the internet – just to be on the safe side. After all, I wanted to be sure that these were not yet more semi-charities, funded with government money to lobby government for yet more money to spend in their particular field.

I am afraid that while these institutions may do some good work for hard-pressed families in the UK – and, indeed, may continue to do so as one organization – these concerns were not unfounded.

Looking first to the Family and Parenting Institute, the organisation’s aim is to create a climate in the UK better for families and children. Noble aims, of course; the kind of goals that no reasonable person could be against. But the questions we need to ask are: by what methods are such aims to be achieved, and who is funding this effort?

It seems among the institute’s major concerns in making the UK a better place for families and children is calling for limits on internet freedom and online advertising. On the issue of Internet pornography, the institute commented in a press release: “We're calling for a block on pornography and other extreme content to be the default setting on all UK Internet provision”.

This organisation believes that the commercialisation of childhood is to be a major concern of public policy and, as a result, it wishes to “ensure regulation of advertising reflects more closely the views of parents and children”. (Note the lack of concern for people who are neither parents nor children.) This included making a formal complaint against a Weetabix advert which was upheld.

Moreover, in 2012, it came out heavily against the Chancellor’s proposal to allow some employees to trade certain employment rights for shares. It concluded that the proposals would “undermine the Government’s drive to support co-owned businesses and create a family friendly employment environment… The proposal will damage the credibility of employee ownership schemes and also undermine family friendly employment”.

What seems absurd is that this organisation is granted funding by the Department of Education. Quite what interference with internet freedom has to do with educating children is beyond me; however, this organisation is deemed so invaluable that it requires not only private support but taxpayer support too.

Its links with government have been strong indeed; from 2004-2011 the Family and Parenting Institute was given the task, by the Department for Education, of running the Parenting Fund which distributed £40 million in grants to 354 charities.

In light of the need for reductions in public spending the Institute says “we are looking for government departments to work in tandem to make the family a priority”.

In other words this institute has been using money given to it from a government department to lobby other government departments to give its particular interest special consideration. Productive.

Now let us turn to the Daycare Trust. A casual glance at its website reveals an organisation that sees its cause being primarily to use the state to solve major issues around childcare.

Commenting on its recent research into childcare the Trust stated that “Only the government can address this situation by investing more in providing support for parents”.

A recent chief executive of the Trust, Alison Garnham, who now works for Child Poverty Action Group, has written that the 2012 budget was a “raid on the incomes of the poorest” and penned an article in the Guardian (of course) whose editors felt it befitted the sensational title: 'Freezing benefits would mean an all-out assault on the poor'.

Before the 2010 general election the Trust called on the incoming government to:

- Aim to spend 1 percent of GDP on early childhood education and care so that all children get the best start in life;

- Extend free places to ensure that all children benefit from early childhood education and care;

- Extend parental leave and make workplaces family-friendly;

- Fill the gaps in provision and guarantee extended schools;

- Make childcare affordable for all parents;

- And celebrate Sure Start Children’s Centres and extend the range of services on offer.

So where does the money come from to fund this research to which the answer is always more government spending? The Daycare Trust has been receiving money from both the Department of Education and the London councils. You may or may not be surprised to hear that beyond direct government funding, we come full circle and find that one of their contributors is Unison.

Wait, it gets worse. The Daycare Trust runs a campaign with the Unison called 'Save out Sure Start', providing materials “for anyone who is concerned that their local authority is planning to cut funding for a local Sure Start Children’s Centre and wants to do something about it”.The Daycare Trust states that it give grants of up to £800 to campaigns to save Sure Start Centres.

Regardless of the merits of Sure Start Centres, it is patently absurd for the government to give money to an organisation which in turn gives money to groups campaigning against the government’s attempts to save money. It looks messy written down; it’s worse in practice.

Not only is this a gross misallocation of scarce resources, it contributes to the array of third sector interest groups who claim total independence – with the halo that comes with charity status – and continually launch PR wars against attempts to reduce government spending.

No matter how fluffy these organisations sound, or how much good work they may do, they must rely on money that is voluntarily given. Otherwise they face becoming quasi-public-sector organisations and will lose the voluntary support and independence they may otherwise have had.

Guy Bentley is a Libertarian blogger and a former editorial assistant at the Commentator

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