UK minister pledges to act on sex abuse in charities as donor numbers fall

by Elena Berton and Lin Taylor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 7 May 2019 19:08 GMT

Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart is seen outside Downing Street, as uncertainty over Brexit continues, in London, Britain May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Image Caption and Rights Information
Charities have come under intense scrutiny since it emerged that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in during a relief mission in Haiti, sparking a scandal that widened to other aid organisations

By Elena Berton and Lin Taylor

LONDON, May 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain's new international aid minister pledged to root out sex abuse in the sector on Tuesday, as a new report showed charitable giving has dropped for the third consecutive year amid deepening mistrust.

Rory Stewart, who was appointed in a cabinet reshuffle last week, vowed to tackle abuse in the sector, especially in rural parts of poor countries like Afghanistan where he served as a diplomat.

"I take it very seriously and I will be pushing it forward with absolute energy," Stewart, 46, told an inquiry led by the cross-party International Development Committee (IDC), which scrutinises Britain's aid department.

"I feel very well equipped to take over, and I think I can make an enormous difference," said Stewart, who has written books about his time in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whose life Hollywood actor Brad Pitt wants to turn into a film.

The proportion of people in Britain who gave to charity directly or by sponsoring a friend or family member dropped to 65 percent in 2018 from 69 percent in 2016, the Charities Aid Foundation said in its UK Giving report published on Tuesday.

"With three years' worth of data, we can now see a clear trend in people's charitable giving and it is headed in a worrying direction," said Susan Pinkney, the Foundation's head of research.

Less than half of respondents - 48 percent - said they believed charities are trustworthy, down from 51 percent in 2016.

The trend reflects the series of sexual abuse and funding scandals that have shaken the aid sector in the last year.

Charities have come under intense scrutiny since it emerged that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in during a relief mission in Haiti, sparking a scandal that widened to other aid organisations.

"If people lack trust, that means they worry that their hard-earned money is not being well spent when donated to charities," said Pinkney.

"This is a challenge that the entire charity sector needs to tackle head on and find ways to inspire people to give and demonstrate to them that their money is making a difference."

Stewart, who replaces Penny Mordaunt, said the scandals had "set fire to the entire sector" and have led to more victims coming forward to report their abuse.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey showed in February that aid agencies received at least 539 sex abuse and harassment reports last year, a 13 percent increase on 2017 which charities said shows abuse victims are more willing to speak up.

Although fewer people are donating, they are giving more, the study found. The total amount given to charity in 2018 remained largely the same as 2017 at 10.1 billion pounds ($13.2 billion).

The survey, which covers data collected over three years between 2016 and 2018, is based on monthly interviews and includes a yearly total of more than 12,000 individual online interviews.

($1 = 0.7659 pounds)

(Reporting by Elena Berton and Lin Taylor, Editing by Claire Cozens and Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.