Coffee House

Oxfam’s Vanity Fair

16 June 2014

11:24 AM

16 June 2014

11:24 AM

Today, dozens of campaign groups rushed to defend Oxfam’s advert attacking government austerity for ‘forcing more and more people into poverty’, claiming complaints about politicisation were an attempt to ‘silence legitimate debate’. In a free country, pressure groups are part of the fabric of our democracy. But, if they choose to be charities for ‘public benefit’, they must remain independent to justify extensive tax breaks.  Oxfam sounds like an echo chamber for the Labour Party – and taxpayers aren’t there to subsidise that.

Like the Hollywood blockbuster it was mimicking, Oxfam’s ad mixes fact and fiction. It conjurs a tempestuous image of The Perfect Storm of ‘austerity Britain’, ‘starring: zero-hours contracts, high prices, benefit cuts, unemployment, childcare costs’. English author, William Makepeace Thackeray, coined the phrase in his 1847 classic, Vanity Fair, to warn against rabble-rousers whipping up a ‘perfect storm’ of indignation against some ‘fictitious monster’ for ulterior motives. There is more than a hint of that in Oxfam’s shrill PR. But, unlike Hollywood directors or literary authors, charities have a legal duty to stay independent, avoid being a vehicle for political views, remain ‘factually accurate’ and present a ‘legitimate evidence base’. Oxfam failed to discharge that duty.

For a start, two of the ‘stars’ emblazoned across the advert don’t even feature in the report. There is no mention of ‘childcare costs’, no attempt to explain how austerity Britain created ‘unemployment’ (down from 8 per cent to 6.6 per cent under this government). If you paid to watch a film at the cinema that didn’t feature two of the star attractions, you’d expect your money back.

Oxfam’s campaigns director, Ben Phillips, compounded his Arthur Daley sales pitch by claiming ‘we’re facing a rising tide of inequality’ and must tackle ‘the underlying causes’ of poverty. Yet, the Office for National Statistics confirms income inequality is lower now than when Labour was in charge.


As for underlying causes, Oxfam can’t blame ‘high prices’ on austerity. Inflation is almost half the rate left by Gordon Brown. Last week, British Retail Consortium data showed spending on food falling for the first time since 2008, while non-food prices fell by 2.8% on last year. Oxfam should thank the free market that delivered the supermarket ‘price wars’ responsible for this.

The advert’s top billing went to ‘zero-hours’ contracts, which offer part-time work with scalable hours to meet business demand. Following Ed Miliband’s script, Oxfam lamented that many new jobs are part-time and insecure. In fact, 74 per cent of all new jobs created since 2010 are full time. 443,000 part-time jobs have been created – many taken up by working mothers and students who need flexibility.

Today, there are 1.4 million workers on zero-hours contracts. Many signed up when Labour was in office. Contrary to myth, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development report that just 9 per cent on zero-hours contracts are prevented from taking up work elsewhere, and job satisfaction is almost identical to other workers. It’s not reasonable to force someone to sign an exclusive employment contract, and then offer no work. But, the scale of the issue – and its relevance to cost of living pressures – has been massively over-blown.

Finally, Oxfam blame ‘benefits cuts’ for food poverty. Yet, the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks, reports that just 1 in 6 referrals cite ‘benefit changes’ as the reason.

If Oxfam wants to grip poverty, why confine itself to apeing Labour Party mantra? Why no mention of the debilitating impact on the poorest of national debt? The best way to help the most economically vulnerable is to create more jobs. Only the dynamism of the private sector can do that. And, as poverty economist Kristian Niemietz argues, in a report for the Institute of Economic Affairs, if Britain wants to help the poorest it should: let councils keep more tax from building new homes to boost supply of cheap housing; scrap the EU agricultural subsidies draining 2 to 3 per cent of annual spending by poorer families; cull the subsidies big energy companies blow on green fads which suck another 1 per cent from the poorest incomes; and look again at the straitjacket regulation hiking childcare costs.

Oxfam’s ad misrepresents its report. Its report smacks of political bias. And the charity has become a revolving door for Labour figures. One of Oxfam’s most effective campaigns has been against tax evasion. Yet, its partisan approach is a gross abuse of its own tax status. If it wants to jettison its independence, it can enjoy all the campaigning freedom in the world – but, then, it must give up the public subsidy.

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Show comments
  • Oliver Williams

    Many charities are deeply politicized. They can get away with all sorts of things without losing their charitable status.

  • Will Goulborn

    Surely high inflation and inequality under Labour are problems which Oxfam highlighted at the time too, or did I dream it?

  • Marquess of Salisbury

    Sorry who IS this Raaab character?!

  • Pier66

    Well everybody Know very well that Oxfam is a bunch of lefty laburist trade union lib dem
    People working against Tory….but at the end of the story they always LOSE!

  • JP Janson De Couet

    Where does Fraser Nelson did up these ranting right wing nutjobs? Can you order them via Amazon?

    How to get rid of ppor

    By dimick Raab age 5

    1. leaveEU

    2. sell stuuf

    3. vote Tory (who not to blame for poor)

    4. i ♡Mrs T

    • Whyshouldihavetoregister

      All true, though. I expect you think you’re funny and clever. You’re neither.

      • Ooh!MePurse!

        Thanks for letting me know that it is meant to be funny. I thought it was just the vague ramblings of someone under the influence.

    • Colonel Mustard

      As opposed to

      1. stay in EU whether the people want to or not

      2. tax people who sell stuff

      3. vote Lieborg

      4. i love Lenin

      You t*sser.

  • Chingford Man

    A properly conservative government would go after these chancers and enjoy the chase. Not much chance of that. Dave is too eager to suck up to this crowd.

  • manonthebus

    The answer is simple; do not donate money to Oxfam. There are a lot of other charities that do the proper charitable job of looking after those genuinely unable to look after themselves.

    • Steve R

      Just done exactly that. A standing order to Oxfam of some 20+ years vintage has today been cancelled, and a new one set up for CAFOD – which is focused on Africa etc, and refuses to toe the Catholic Church line on contraception – to it’s credit.
      The only way to get the Labour fifth-columnists working under cover in the Establishment charities to take notice is to hit them in the bank account.

      • Blindsideflanker

        The advice I have had from relatives abroad is to only give to Medicine Sans Frontiers. They stand apart from the rest of the agencies, they deliver what they claim, and won’t allow themselves to be messed around with by local despots.

        In Wilison Airport Kenya there are a couple of aircraft with the EU flag on them. These aircraft are for the use of the EU bureaucracy and Aid agencies. From what I have heard MsF won’t have anything to do with them, they pay their own way.

      • wycombewanderer

        CAFOD? sorry but don’t you read the papers?

        Damian Mcfucking Bride is a their chief spinner.

        FFS cancel it before they get a penny from you and give it to a local hospice or the local donkey sanctuary anything but CAFOD

      • peter the painter

        condoms for Africa is a false economy anyway. How can it be a moral duty to interfere with them all the time ?

  • sarahsmith232

    If the Tories hadn’t allowed themselves to become so absolutely dominated by Toff’s then they wouldn’t be a party cowering and running away every time Labour and their Unions/public sector/charity sector/ BBC and all the rest of their taxpayer funded propagandists go out to bat for them. The Tories all know taking this fight to them means you’re going to take a ‘Toff’s, what do you know, you’re all out of touch’ pasting, so keep it shut and let them dominate the debate.
    How many people know that when the Left does their – ‘most people in receipt of benefit are working’ line they mean that people are working the statutory minimum 16hrs to keep the benefit office off their backs, then are claiming a £35,000py existence from the taxpayer. The Tories need to start hammering the Left on this, if the Tories had any connection to the reality of those kinds of welfare dependent worlds they would have every kind of angle going to be able to go after the Left on this.
    Personally i’d really love to see this Raab become leader of the Tories but nevertheless, i’m going to guess he’d prob’ need to have pointed out to him all of ways to go after them on this. I’m sure he’d also prefer to cower away from the fight, run scared of their ‘rich boy, what do you know, offspring of the privately educated, privileged posh boy’ assault.

    • sarahsmith232

      oh yes, and another thing. Just had a quick read over the main points of the Tories Immigration Act, ****ing, flipping, ****ing nothing ****ing in the ****ing thing. Zero about getting a grip on the illegals, just a few weak, pathetic, superficial joke differences that are only about mopping up the mess after the fact.
      None are going to have a chance of getting past the Human Right’s Act. The fines for landlords? Ha! No chance of that happening, they’ve got every get out clause going. Under ‘Excuses’ – if they used an agent and the agent didn’t check properly. So will the agent be held responsible? Not if they also use their get out clause under their ‘Excuses’ – I told the landlord, but the landlord didn’t do anything. So it’ll come down to the same reason rape cases never result in a conviction, can’t be proved legally their either side is lying, in which case – it’s a not guilty.
      So we can forget the fines for landlords. The rest of the Act is just as weak and a joke. And absolutely ****ing nothing whatsoever about stopping them all getting in in the first place.
      Then they wonder why Ukip is soaring.

  • MartinC

    Oxfam is a sock puppet.
    According to their own accounts which you can find on this page Oxfam receives 44% of its income directly from the taxpayer. It is very much a state funded organisation.
    Political sock-puppets, which you can find out about here exist to skew the public debate and political process by drowning out the voice of genuine civil society. £144m per year buys an awful lot of political campaigning that individuals, no matter how motivated, simply cannot compete with.
    Oxfam has no right to campaign for a financial transaction tax for example, as taxation policy is a nakedly political proposition that has nothing to do with famine in the third world.
    Politically, Oxfam needs to shut up. And if it can’t do that, fine; then it needs to be cut from the taxpayer’s teat on which it feeds.

    • Colonel Mustard

      The problem is that if the Tories went after the politicised charities by cutting their funding it would be spun as persecuting the poor and the disadvantaged whom those charities profess to champion. It is a no-win situation for the Tories but the left-wing politicisation of charities is a very significant danger to democracy in this country.

      • ButcombeMan

        The electorate can do something though. I now have ceased donating to both OXFAM and the RSPCA.

        • Inverted Meniscus

          Well said. I never donated money to that ghastly shower at the RSCA but have just cancelled my donations to OXFAM and have written advising them why.

        • Tony_E

          Unfortunately you haven’t stopped donating, not if you pay you taxes.

      • Tony_E

        Precisely – which is exactly why Brown relaxed the rules on charity campaigning.

        He was the most political chancellor and PM in history – ruling for the Labour party, not for the people.

        • Inverted Meniscus

          Well said. With that arrogant, incompetent, bullying coward Brown everything was political and that was why he was so weak, ineffective and loathsome.

        • Colonel Mustard

          It is apparent that the creation of a Labour ‘shadow government’ (not just charities but quangos and other NGAs) was a deliberate act of subversion but the lack of any coherent plan to rectify this by the Coalition is suspicious too. There have been various articles about the problem, including a Taxpayers Alliance report ‘Taxpayer Funded Lobbying and Political Campaigning’ and the IEA Discussion Paper No. 39 ‘Sock Puppets – How the government lobbies itself and why’. Worth reading, as is, especially in the context of current Labour spin about the cost of living, etc., Maurice Saatchi’s indictment of New Labour ‘Enemy of the People’.

          • Tony_E

            Brown was clever, he knew that it would whip up a public storm of protest, led by the BBC if the coalition tried to undo it.

            Many of the Brown policies were based on this idea, that once you extend a privilege to a group, organisation or individual, you can forever use the fear of its removal against your enemies. Every tactic was a vote bought in perpetuity. Even though he knew it was unaffordable he carried on regardless.

            It’s part of the character of labour that they saw themselves as political insurgents, using their time to lay traps rather than actually govern. Blair stood apart from them, a tool for their success but not really part of them, a man with a messianic self belief desperately seeking a legacy.

  • Mr Creosote

    If you want top quality childcare, you have to pay for it…….get used to it!

    • wycombewanderer

      If you want top quality campaigning you have to pay for it and it’s the labour party who should be paying for this not the taxpayer

  • Blindsideflanker

    This is not news to anybody, the likes of Oxfam are multinational organisations whose product is to sell misery and guilt to the west, which requires them to find a ready supply of misery to keep them in business.

  • anyfool

    Mr Raab, you and your crowd had the chance to clean out the nest of vipers that Labour installed in the so called charity sector, you even brag about giving money to these parasites, 500 million to foodbanks and others ring any bells.
    Until you and your fellow Tories get a pair! the entrenching of these partisan creatures will go on.

    • Tony_E

      They don’t have the votes – you would have to reverse the Brown changes, and the Lib Dems are on the other side.