Can gagged charities speak out?
One of the most pernicious charity-sector developments in recent years has been the gagging of some charities that are in receipt of government contracts. A recent Times investigation determined that 40 charities had been ‘gagged’; charities working with people claiming universal credit were among those affected. This follows a similar pattern to events a few years ago when charities working with ex-prisoners were not allowed to criticise the Justice Secretary.
This is surely a path to ruin. These organisations are often the only ones that can reach the most marginalised people in society – yet are prevented from speaking out on their behalf. If charities can’t stand up for them, who will!?
Thankfully, Teresa May has responded to a letter from Sir Stuart Etherington, CEO of NCVO, to assure him and the sector that they will not in fact be gagged from speaking out and that there will be greater clarity in future contracts. What this means for current contracts remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a small step in the right direction. The government should be proud of our sector and encourage healthy debate, even if the output can sometimes be difficult to hear. That’s democracy in action.