UNDAUNTED: How can Irish charities avoid the scandals?

Steve Daunt explores how charities can avoid ending up in the news for all the wrong reasons

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File photo. Image: RollingNews.ie

We are where we are. It’s a phrase that I loath to use but for one day only Undaunted is going down that route.

Charities - they have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons again. We thought we had gone through the worst of it with REHAB and the CRC but events in Console are equally sad.

I’m not going to comment on the Console case specifically. Instead, I’m going to try and plot a way forward for our understanding of why we need charities. This is where the ‘WAWWA’ idea comes in.

As a person with a disability, I’ve seen the good and the not-so-good things charities do. We have all seen the amazing work that charities can achieve. We have also seen the chaos that occurs when things go wrong. I’ve also seen charities demean the experience of being disabled in their use of imagery, for example. The image of the ’helpless’ disabled person fuels the revenue stream of the charity rather than enhancing the lives of their ‘clients’. We will return to that little word later.

This is not to suggest that charities are entirely to blame for everything.

It is very obvious that the state can often see ‘farming out’ services in the hope that this would save it money. When things go wrong, the hope is the charity gets the flack from Joe Public. Joe Public subsequently forgets the state pays the charity and has responsibilities too.

That is how complicated the relationship between state and charities is. They need each other. So what follows are a few steps that I think might make the relationship better for everybody:

  1. Charities are not charities. At best they are not-for-profit companies. It’s time to call a spade a spade. Should they be allowed to make money? Well, there’s a thing. The younger rebellious me would do my best Ian Paisley and say NEVER. Now, I’m not so sure. If they provide a service that is high quality, who am I to argue?
  2. This brings us back to the C word - client. I was around when the disability sector started using it. It made me cringe. The word client supposes that there is an equal relationship based on respect. The client receives the service he or she wants. Do we think that is happening? A client has rights. Let’s never forget this. I suspect some charities still don’t get it. If that goes on, that charity’s lifespan will undoubtedly be shortened.
  3. If the state is engaging charities, we should be able to see clear contracts of who does what and why. If the contracts were met, then I might feel ok with some profit taking. With that in place, points one and two will work.

I hear people say that many of the activities that charities do should be taken back into the state. The reality is that this won’t happen. I’ve always thought of what would happen if charities/not-for-profits went on strike? Would the state be able to cope? Of course it wouldn’t.

The ‘mixed economy’ that is the Irish social care system isn’t going to change anytime soon. We are where we are. My three very modest proposals might bring a bit of clarity... Or maybe not.

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