Hitting the Commission on the nose

Howard Lake | 18 May 1998 | News

“Once people start to think about the absurdities of what we call charity, the fundamental questions may jump up and hit the [Charity] Commission on the nose.” So wrote Polly Toynbee recently in The Guardian. She thinks that the Commission’s major public consultation into the register of charities might involve opening a “vast wriggling tin of worms”, no matter how much the Commission points out that it cannot change the law to define a charity.

She queries how a definition of charity that was drawn up in 1601 can still be relevant to today’s range of charitable activities. “How can they tidy up a few bits round the edges without questioning the whole insane basis of this tottering edifice?”, she asks. She recognises that no government is going to try to redefine charity since it would mean taking on too many interest groups. Her solution is that the government should abolish charitable status altogether.

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