Private Briefing with Dan Carden MP, Shadow International Development Secretary
Date: 6th February
Location: The Palace of Westminster
On Wednesday 6th February, MCF held a private briefing for our members, joined by colleagues from across the Muslim Charity Sector for a meeting with Dan Carden MP, Shadow International Development Secretary. Sector leaders were afforded the opportunity to discuss the concerns and issues posed to Muslim charity organisations- (several of whom were represented on the day), such as the proposed privatisation of the UK Aid budget, criminalisation of aid workers and bank de-risking policies impacting charities operating in high-risk areas.
The key tenets of the discussion were:
- Concerns relating to the proposal for privatisation of the UK Aid budget and the ramifications on transparency and confidence in the aid sector.
- Counter-terrorism bill passed, essentially criminalised aid workers working in high-risk/conflict zones– the sector pushed back, but this bill should not have been passed without due consultation from sector experts.
- Examples were given of banks which have severed their services to Muslim charities without warning, nor providing any explanation, and the damaging impact this has had on programme delivery, operations, and charities reputation.
- Financial institutions have a responsibility to engage more effectively with charitable organisations– opening the dialogue for better understanding to protect themselves and for insight into how charities operate on the part of banks.
- Restrictions on banking prevents charities from doing the work they need to do, and being able to serve their beneficiaries effectively
- Growing Islamophobia is hindering progress within the sector and abroad in conflict-affected countries
One of the significant questions posed to Dan Carden MP was, what will Labour do to address the problems facing Muslim charities and bank de-risking, as it is a burning issue that is causing damage to the operations and effectiveness of charities as well as impacting their ability to support their beneficiaries. All organisations regardless of size are feeling the effect of these new policies, which are in fact policies imposed by the US financial institutions- followed by UK banks, leading to years of hard work to be stopped or severely restricted. For smaller charities, this can mean complete closure of operations. While they try to solve the issue on their own, it can take takes years for them to recover, if at all. Furthermore, there is often a complete lack of communication from banking institutions, especially regarding the reason for these disruptions, meaning charities are left in the dark.
At the meeting, it was acknowledged that this continues to be a growing problem faced across the Muslim Charity sector and, there is a need for Government as well as the Shadow team to raise the profile of this matter through means such as a large-scale awareness campaign.
There was an agreement that Government and financial institutions have a responsibility to engage with the sector to come up with reasonable and effective methods to resolve this issue. We hope to continue such discussion with Government. This is an ongoing issue as banks are private entities and are at times difficult to communicate with. It is therefore of paramount importance that ministers and other colleagues in positions of high standing to relay this to the financial institutions.
Since the occurrence of 9/11 there has been a consistent rise of islamophobia. The political climate has since in turn become increasingly hostile towards the Muslim Charity sector which has been targeted thus, hindering the progress being made in helping those in need. This ongoing narrative has unfortunately been influenced and encouraged by the Media, which has contributed to fostering a hostile environment for Muslim charities. The government has also played a role in enabling the promotion of such negative narratives and as such should be held accountable and make more conscious efforts to engage in addressing such harmful attitudes.
There was acknowledgement of the necessary changes that need to be made in regard to negative narratives surrounding Muslim charities working in high conflict zones.
It is clear that islamophobic attitudes have permeated aspects of government and consequently, policies relating to the third sector have reflected this. As such, Government need to ensure that they are actively challenging such narratives and often reconsidering the ways in which they are influencing relevant policies in a way that does not further hinder the progress charitable organisations are trying to make.
Counter-Terrorism and Border Security (criminalisation of aid workers)
The controversy surrounding the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security bill was also raised. MCF along with the wider INGO sector were concerned by the extension of the Counter Terrorism and Border Security bill which would see the criminalisation of Aid workers working in countries and regions of conflict– where the need for aid is most critical. The proposed bill limits which countries aid workers are able to travel to, which poses a problem for international humanitarian aid, which is often centred in and around high–risk countries.
This was identified as an example of a lack of clear dialogue between policy makers and aid agencies. For the matter to reach a resolution, it will require concerted effort and consistent dialogue between aid agencies/charities, financial institutions and government to implement progressive policies that do not hinder the impactful work of charitable organisations.
Dan Carden MP acknowledged that the delivery of aid is central to Labour’s own political interests and acknowledged that with this Bill many charitable organisations and aid agencies are prevented from doing the work they need to do and reaching their beneficiaries. There is overlap where this matter is concerned as it is also a priority for Labour and, as such, this shared commitment to lifting people out of poverty and delivering aid remains to be one of the largest issues faced by the Muslim Charity sector.
Privatisation of UK Aid bill
It was also acknowledged that UK overseas aid is threatened in this country as there is a divergence in terms of aid and privatisation of the sector has also posed challenges. Dan Carden shared that the Labour party has a priority to steer away from over relying on the private sector, which can be achieved through prioritising infrastructure, investing in public services through free state services and, creating free access to health care and education. It is recognised that this problem cannot be solved by charity work alone and will require consistent support from cross party support.