The British taxpayer has handed over more than £6 million to charities that are currently, or have been in the past, used by extremists to further their radical agenda, according to a new report from the Henry Jackson Society. The report’s case studies are illustrative so £6 million is likely the tip of the iceberg. The money is enough to fund 27,328 hospital beds per day, the annual salary of 234 infantry soldiers, or the salary of 264 new teachers, but instead, it is being handed over to individuals some of whose involvement in extremism can be traced back to the Islamist scene in the early 2000s.
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: How Islamist Extremists Exploit the UK Charitable Sector finds that, despite more than a decade of attempts to improve regulations, a concerning number of UK-registered charities continue to fund and support extremism. Figures from across the Islamist spectrum, including the Muslim Brotherhood, form a network which seeks to delegitimise and push out moderate voices, while masquerading as representatives of ‘true’ Islam. For example, Helping Households Under Great Stress (HHUGS) is involved in prisoner advocacy but extreme and illiberal individuals are involved at all levels of the organisation, from trustees to supporters, speakers and beneficiaries. The Charity Commission, legally unable to de-register these ‘bad’ charities, has been particularly ill-equipped to deal with these organisations. Its powers have been extended in recent legislation, but the public is still waiting for those new powers to be put to use to tackle this problem.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including: The Charity Commission must urgently exercise the powers given to it under the Charities Act 2016 to direct the winding up of charities and the removal of inappropriate trustees, as well as become much more proactive in checking the background of trustees. The Government should consider increasing the resources available to the Commission so that they can effectively implement their new powers. HM Revenue & Customs should work closely with the Commission to prevent the misuse of Gift Aid. Ofcom should be granted more powers, and use its current powers more effective, to deal with channels providing a platform for extremist content, individuals or fundraising for extremist charities. Crowd-funding and event platforms such as Eventbrite, JustGiving and Virgin Giving should do more to prevent extremist charities from raising money and advertising events through their websites.
Commenting on her report, Emma Webb, Research Fellow at the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society, said: ‘At a time of controversy over the size and capabilities of Britain’s Armed Forces and the pressure faced by public services, it is outrageous that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is unwittingly being handed over to extremists whose only goal is to damage our society. The £6 million figure is a minimum, with the evidence suggesting that this is only the tip of the iceberg. This report illustrates how these charities operate like a cartel, with extremist speakers involved in multiple organisations, presenting themselves as the voice of ‘true’ Islam and squeezing out moderate voices. The charities give them a platform, disseminating their literature and giving them credibility and access. Charitable status is not a right, it is a privilege. The public correctly expect that charities should work for society, not against it. Action is needed now if we are to stop this network of Islamist extremists from continuing to use charities and taxpayers’ money to fund the spread of divisive, illiberal and intolerant views within our own communities.