St Mungos: A Lesson That Charity Doesn’t Solve Everything | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

St Mungos: A Lesson That Charity Doesn’t Solve Everything

Comment Writer Rhi Storer criticises charitable organisations in light of the latest scandal surrounding St Mungos

There’s something quite British about charity. Whether that be a base-camp trek to Everest for Children In Need, riding a 300 mile bike ride for Sport Relief or just simply holding a bake-off for a local hospice, it’s clear the British people give generously to others less fortunate than themselves, time after time. In fact, our country has such a deep connection with generosity that in 2016, Britain was ranked within the top ten of the CAF World Giving Index Ranking.

Public trust and confidence in charities has been falling over the last decade

Often we donate to charities in the hope that our cash, items, or spare voluntary time will make a real difference to the lives of others. We trust charities in a social contract to do good work on our behalf and play a vital role in our society.

Yet, public trust and confidence in charities has been falling over the last decade - distrust over charities spend donations, and consequently, a lack of knowledge among the public about where their donations go. Take, for example, the Oxfam scandal in which a much loved British charity has been engulfed by a sex scandal.

It doesn’t help that St Mungos, one of the largest providers of homelessness outreach services in the UK, has worked with the Home Office patrols as they go out on the streets in search of rough sleepers deemed to be in the UK illegally, in order to arrest and deport. This is despite a recent high court challenge that ruled it unlawful to deport rough sleepers from countries in the European Economic Area (EEA). It is a small relief, but not enough for those who have sought refuge from others countries.

St Mungos has worked with the Home Office patrols as they go out on the streets in search of rough sleepers deemed to be in the UK illegally, in order to arrest and deport

Here is something deeply rotten in the charity sector. A process of changes have led to those whose mission is to protect rough sleepers to become ‘informers’ of a cold and callous government. Sometimes the hostile environment in effect enforces compliance through fines or a reduction in funding, but what is so shocking here is that it was entirely voluntary by St Mungos. St Mungos had be working with ICE (Immigration, Compliance, Enforcement) teams, in their words: ‘Help people resolve their immigration status. That means working with the Home Office – with the person’s consent – when people haven’t got documentation’.

No wonder homeless people are suspicious of charities, and would rather freeze on the streets than to ask for help. It is a complete manipulation of trust to masquerade as a homeless charity while handing people over to the Home Office to be deported. Using homeless charities to spy on the homeless is a new low, even for our current government bent on bringing border controls across all parts of our lives.

No wonder homeless people are suspicious of charities, and would rather freeze on the streets than to ask for help

And while in a response statement, St Mungos said: ‘We took the decision that it was better to be there to provide support to vulnerable people sleeping rough than not be able to advocate for them at these times’, charities cooperating with immigration enforcement is troubling precisely because it threatens their independence. How can a charity spends its income on political campaigns targeted at the same government from which it gets money and on whose behalf it acts? It is as Chris Snowden, author of The Shock Doctrine, says: ‘Charities have become “sock puppets”, taking money from the government to lobby the government’.

It seems then, the hypocrisy of biting the hand that feeds it seems not to cross the minds of senior management. Charities have become a refuge for careerists without a humanitarian impulse or common decency, and if a charity is to make a real difference in our society it needs to be truly independent of government funding and its managers need to show a personal commitment to charity.

But more to the point, should we be relying on charities in the first place? Rather than focusing on the acute issue - that there is a homelessness crisis in the UK - we should be focusing on the chronic issue - that there is a wholesale dismantling of state intervention with regards to housing, and no immediate replacement. It is a question of whose rights will be violated as time and time again cuts are introduced. Benefit payments, state services and public goods exist because it is the duty of the state to ensure the rights of its citizens are respected.

Charities accept the injustice itself while mitigating the consequences of that injustice itself

Charities often target symptoms, not causes. It certainly is true that some charities do stopgap or 'band-aid' work, but it is a real substitute for true justice when it patches up the effects of injustices interwoven into the structures and values of a society.

In that sense, charities accept the injustice itself while mitigating the consequences of that injustice itself. You can help a homeless person find shelter for one night, but are you helping out the chronic lack of social housing for these people?

We need to address the the social dynamics constitutive of the society we live in. Instead of fixing homelessness based on monetary terms, it should be fixed based on solidarity, and furthermore, we should be questioning the allocation of resources. Only then can we tackle this problem that is blighting our country.

 

final year political science student



Published

17th March 2018 at 9:00 am



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