Yesterday UKIP launched their long-awaited election manifesto, a seventy five page policy document laying out the Eurosceptic party’s proposals for what they would do in government in areas ranging from tax to foreign affairs via crime and culture.
Back in 2012 I joined UKIP for their tax policies, not Brexit. Yesterday’s manifesto didn’t disappoint. Despite watering down proposals for a flat rate of income tax, UKIP remains the party with the most liberal tax policies by an autonomous-country mile. Ending income tax on the minimum wage, cutting income tax overall, ending the death tax and increasing the transferable personal tax allowance for married couples and civil partners are all vote winners.
Cutting business rates for small businesses, replacing the Barnett formula, slashing the costs of government and increasing defence spending to ensure our armed forces actually have basic equipment are solid, sensible, costed policies for a better Britain. And ‘costed’ is key; UKIP is the only major party to have its manifesto independently audited to ensure that every tax cut and spending commitment is affordable, a world away from outlandish spending promises from the Conservatives , Labour and the Greens.
However, it wasn’t all soundness and roses. UKIP’s promise to scrap the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ is a little piece of spineless populism and the removal of the brilliant health and education voucher policies hammered another nail into the coffin of UKIP’s libertarianism.
The manifesto also confirmed that just like every other political party, UKIP has fallen into line to worship at the altar of Britain’s national religion, the NHS.
But given that they are trying to win the hearts of their ‘people’s army’, not of a few SW London classical liberals, adjustments in line with public opinion are to be expected as UKIP completes its metamorphosis into a serious, major political party with an impressively broad manifesto.
And among the proposals to cut the cost of Westminster was a hidden gem, a promise to clamp down on so-called ‘fake charities’ or state-funded political activism.
Government funding of charities is a huge issue; estimates suggest that in the UK between £3.1 billion and £6.5 billion of large charities’ funds comes straight from the taxpayers’ pocket. Historical evidence from the Institute of Economic Affairs, cited in the CEBR audit of UKIP’s manifesto, reveals that “between 1997 and 2005, the combined income of Britain’s charities nearly doubled, from £19.8bn to £37.9bn, with the biggest growth coming in grants and contracts from government departments.” Since 2008, Britain’s multi-billion pound charity industry has received more money from government than it has from individuals, entirely undermining the “voluntary” element of charity.
UKIP are not the first to identify this problem. Chris Snowdon wrote an excellent paper entitled ‘Sock Puppets’ for the Institute of Economic Affairs that looked into this abuse of public money in detail. He concluded that there are three significant problems that arise when the state funds the charity sector: primarily, there is the questionable use of scarce public funds; secondly, through doing so the democratic process is subverted and finally, by amplifying the voices of state funded “charities” through artificial financial means the real civil society is marginalised.
State funding blurs the lines between civil society and government, between charity – which by its very definition is voluntary – and state aid; through doing so the government distorts the voice of its citizens by putting causes in their mouths, magnifying the voices of left-wing groups and in doing so quietening dissent, resulting in a highly distorted version of what civil society desires.
In reality, when the government promises to ‘match’ every pound donated to a certain whimsical cause, ‘government’ is not donating a penny: taxpayers are. And while this sort of involuntary charitable giving constitutes a tiny proportion of the monumental sums spent by government in our name each year, it is exactly this that many of us imagine our gigantic £11.7 billion aid budget should go towards, rather than yet more cash being pumped in on our behalf.
The great thing about using the so-called charity sector to lobby for parliamentary change is the halo effect of ‘charity’; it’s harder to shout down Save the Children or Oxfam in public than it is to publicly battle the left-wing mantras or policy chiefs, a startling number of whom are former Labour Special Advisors, that are pulling the strings.
Yet given that so many charities use this money to lobby the government for policy changes, we end up back to that old chestnut, so beloved by the EU, of policy-based evidence-making rather than evidence-based policy-making. The government uses our money to fund “charities” that then lobby the same government in our name to affect policy change, often thereby legitimising pre-existing governmental plans.
If we put aside concerns for democracy, transparency and the public purse aside, this sort of patronage can be dangerous for the charities themselves; dependency on government grants renders them vulnerable to the whims of successive governments. If a cause goes out of fashion then income may quickly be lost, perhaps explaining why modern charities feel the need to shriek all the louder and the litany of hyperbole over melting icecaps and vanishing tigers.
It goes without saying that any organisation dependent on taxpayers’ money will argue for more of it, just as vested interests tend to oppose reform. This is a challenge that any brave incoming government will face, just as the Tories did when attempting to enact their ‘bonfire of the QUANGOs’. As a policy it would be hard to regulate for determining which causes are ‘real’ and which are thinly guised campaign mobs would divide opinion, but it is vital that the independence of the voluntary sector be restored.
UKIP are so very right to put this at the heart of their reform proposals; the “people’s army” must take on Gordon Brown’s people. It is time that taxpayers’ money is protected and charities are rebalanced from government propagation to grass-roots activism. Something UKIP is all about.