current affairs

Oxfam’s tweet that raised a storm of questions

Earlier this month, Oxfam tweeted a campaign against austerity measures introduced by the government.

Earlier this month, Oxfam tweeted a campaign against austerity measures introduced by the government. In the tweet, the measures introduced at Westminster were leading more people in the UK to enter poverty.



The tweet got to the attention of MPs. Conservative MP Conor Burns wrote to the head of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, to call for an investigation as to whether Oxfam violated its status as a charity.

A duty

“Many people who support Oxfam will be shocked and saddened by this highly political campaigning in domestic British politics,” Burns said according to a report from the BBC. “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.”

Reached by email, Sarah Hitchings, a spokeswoman for the Commission, said the Commission was not currently investigating Oxfam, but was assessing whether the tweet warranted further inquiries.

“It’s worth being aware of the rules on charity campaigning; charities are often the most appropriate organisations to speak out and campaign on behalf of their users,” Hitchings said. “From lobbying politicians to running online petitions, charities can engage in a range of activities to support their charity’s aims. But charities must never be politically biased.”

In an emailed statement, Ben Phillips, Oxfam’s Policy and Campaigns Director, said the charity had the duty to raise the issue of poverty.

“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,” Phillips said. “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.”

Tamsin O’Brien, a spokeswoman for Oxfam, declined to comment further beyond Phillips’ statement.

Oxfam’s tweet caused much of a debate. Priti Patel, a Conservative MP, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, said the tweet revealed they were a mouthpiece for left wing propaganda.

“Oxfam are behaving disgracefully by misleading the public about Government policies and their political campaigning may be in breach of their charitable remit,” Patel said. “With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left wing propaganda.”

Future social media questions

Reached by email, Beth Granter, a digital charity consultant and trade unionist, said she was not surprised about Burns’ letter to the Commission, and called the move similar to other policies introduced by the Conservatives.

“Capitalist governments will always attempt to silence any meaningful opposition to their austerity measures,” Granter said.

Granter said that the campaign should have been political, despite the nature of charities being so bold and political.

“It’s unusual to see a large mainstream charity being so bold and political,” Granter said. “Yes, I think that the campaign is political, and I think it should be. If charities are stopped from challenging political policy, what routes do the public have to make their opposition, and their struggles known?”

Granter added that with the report, Burns has said things about party policy. But, Granter expects the Commission will not uphold the complaint.

“What Burns’ has done however in claiming that the Oxfam campaign against austerity is a critique of the Conservatives, is essentially accepting that yes, not only is Conservative policy is focused on zero hour contracts, high prices, benefit cuts, unemployment and childcare costs, but that these measures are the essence of what the Tories are,” Granter said. “I just hope that other charities and trade unions are not intimidated by this, and hopefully fight back even harder.”

As news of action continues to be debated, it may change the direction charities may campaign, particularly in the case of social media. For now, the questions are still trying to be answered.

What do you think? Do you see a change coming in campaigning? Was Oxfam right to post this? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: net_efekt / Flickr