Have you seen the latest Oxfam advert – the one which is causing all the controversy? If not, here it is:
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Oxfam’s poster brings home in a very direct way the situation as regards UK poverty today.
That situation in turn shows the effects of the Lib Dem and Tory Coalition’s ‘long term economic plan’ – to make the poor pay for the economic failures of the rich.

Not surprisingly, it has made neither the right wing press nor some Tories very happy.

Under the headline, ‘Oxfam’s latest poster is crude Labour propaganda. Time to cancel your standing order’, Damian Thompson, the Daily Telegraph’s Editor of Telegraph Blogs and regular columnist, writes:
“Oxfam’s latest ad campaign – “The Perfect Storm, starring zero hour contracts, high prices, benefits cuts…” – makes Owen Jones look subtle (H/T Tim Montgomerie). It’s agitprop, pure and simple. If you’re a Left-wing activist, you’ll be happy. If not, and you currently support Oxfam, you might want to cancel your standing order.”

So what is this all about?

Oxfam’s ‘Below the Breadline’ report, compiled in conjunction with Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust, reveals a scandalous situation in Britain in 2014.
Oxfam’s website claims:
“Today, Britain is a country where one in five people live below the poverty line and life expectancy in some areas is lower than in some developing countries. Yet the rich keep getting richer opening up a massive inequality gap. In fact, the UK is on course to become one of the most unequal countries in the industrialised world.”
It continues:
“Another fallout from the ‘perfect storm’ that many people face every day – rising prices, unfair working conditions, benefit cuts, reduced buying power – is that a growing number of families are facing food poverty.
“It seems unbelievable in the 21st century that in the UK – the world’s seventh wealthiest nation – people are going hungry. Increasing numbers of people are being forced to use food banks in order to feed their families.”

And here is what the Trussell Trust has to say:
“Every day people in the UK go hungry for reasons ranging from redundancy to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income. Trussell Trust foodbanks provide a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK.
“In 2013-14 foodbanks fed 913,138 people nationwide. Of those helped, 330,205 were children.
“Rising food and fuel prices, static incomes, underemployment and changes to benefits are some of the reasons why increasing numbers are being referred to foodbanks for emergency food.
“The Trussell Trust partners with churches and communities to open new foodbanks nationwide. With over 420 foodbanks currently launched, our goal is for every town to have one.”

For more details on the Trussell Trust’s work see: http://www.trusselltrust.org/foodbank-projects

Some Tory MPs have now referred Oxfam to the Charities Commissioner – on the grounds that Oxfam has breached the rules on political campaigning. We doubt whether the Commissioner wil uphold the objection.
As its own guidelines state
‘Campaigning and political activity can be legitimate and valuable activities to undertake.

However, political campaigning, or political activity, as defined in this guidance, must be undertaken by a charity only in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable purposes.
A charity can campaign using emotive or controversial material, where this is lawful and justifiable in the context of the campaign. Such material must be factually accurate and have a legitimate evidence base.

The principles of charity campaigning and political activity are the same, whether the activity is carried out in the United Kingdom or overseas.’

Uncomfortable truths have to be stated. Oxfam were surely right to highlight what they perceive as the situation. The fact that it is close to home makes it appear different from their usual statements. But as they themselves state ‘Oxfam is a global movement of people who share the belief that, in a world rich in resources, poverty isn’t inevitable. It’s an injustice which can, and must, be overcome.’ Poverty – and its injustice – are their business, wherever it is found. This is why Oxfam was founded, it is why it exists.

No doubt some people will follow Mr Thompson’s suggestion and stop giving to Oxfam.
But we are confident that most fair-minded Britons will respond by continuing to support their local Oxfam shops and Trussell Trust food banks.

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