UK Politics

Oxfam criticised by charities watchdog over poverty tweet

An image used in a Oxfam campaign drawing attention to the use of food banks in the UK Image copyright Other
Image caption Oxfam said its campaign would "lift the lid" on austerity in the UK

An Oxfam tweet linking benefit cuts to poverty could have been "misconstrued as party political campaigning", the Charity Commission has said.

The charity put out a tweet in June speaking of a "perfect storm" caused by "zero hours contracts, high prices, benefit cuts and unemployment".

The watchdog said Oxfam "should have done more to avoid any misperception of political bias".

Oxfam said it had reviewed its social media policy as a result.

The tweet was put out to promote an Oxfam report, called Below the Breadline, which warned of the "relentless rise of food poverty" in the UK.

The Commission launched an investigation following a complaint by Conservative MP Conor Burns.

At the time, Mr Burns said he was "shocked" by the "overtly political" campaign. "I cannot see how using funds donated to charity to campaign politically can be in accord with Oxfam's charitable status," he said.

'Greater clarity'

In its report, the Charity Commission said the tweet and accompanying embedded picture "could have affected the views of those who received it and could be misconstrued by some as party political campaigning".

Image caption Conor Burns said Oxfam's campaign was "overtly political"

Political campaigning is allowed if it "supports the charitable purposes" and if "perceptions of the charity's independence are unaffected," the commission said.

It went on: "Although we accept that the charity had no intention to act in a party political way, we concluded that the charity should have done more to avoid any misperception of political bias by providing greater clarity and ensuring that the link to the 'Below the Breadline' report was more obvious.

"We appreciate that tweets by nature are short. Nevertheless, consideration must always be given as to how they might be perceived when received in isolation."

'Food plight'

Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said he was pleased the commission had said the tweet was not political.

He added: "At a time when increasing numbers of British people are surviving on food hand-outs, we have a responsibility to draw attention to their plight and challenge the politicians who have the power to help them.

"The commission found that in relation to this tweet we did not do enough to avoid people misunderstanding our intentions and we accept that. We have reviewed our social media procedures to reduce the risk of tweets being misconstrued in future."

The commission also said another Oxfam advert, during the Gaza conflict, was within its guidelines on campaigning and political guidelines.

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