Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Depression Alliance (PI 54)

  I will pursue the SSRI Working Group issue elsewhere. In the meantime, I do have quite strong views on the issue of industry funding of the voluntary sector so, for what it's worth, I'd like to share these with you and the Select Committee.

  In an ideal world, I can see why some would say that it would be preferable if the sector were independent of funding from any area of industry (as opposed to just the pharmaceutical industry). To my mind, there are four essential flaws in this argument. First and foremost, certainly mental health charities are not fortunate enough to exist in an ideal world. We have to make do with the real one. In the real world, there is a paucity of government funding (for example our core grant is not sufficient to pay one member of staff), grant-making trusts prefer project funding, our cause is not popular with the public in general, so we do not have the broad base of untied funding that is the life-blood of the sector. In short, corporate sector funding helps us to provide services that—without it—we would not be able to provide, and it underpins our overheads.

  Secondly, there is an argument that by accepting industry funding, the sector in some way becomes "in the pay" of that industry. In 15 years working in the sector, I have encountered one example of this. It was not in the health sector and the company involved was not a pharmaceutical company. It was actually one of the largest corporate givers in this country—and the donation was refused out of hand. I have never been asked for anything in return for a donation from the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, the contrary is true, as I have frequently found myself undertaking, for example, a piece of awareness-raising media work that—had I been a consultant—a company could reasonably have expected to pay for. The simple fact is that the strength of the mental health charity is its independence. Without that independence, our voice would hold no sway—it is in no-one's interests to dilute our independence.

  Thirdly, there is a very tight legal framework determining what freely offered donation a charity can and cannot refuse. This is enshrined in the basic concept of "Charity", as defined in the Heads of Charity which have stood for, I believe, over 400 years. Charity Trusteeship brings with it a fiduciary duty not just to manage a Charity's funds, but to maximise its income. Despite what some (invariably wealthy) charities would argue, a charity cannot simply refuse an untied donation. There are strict conditions that need to be met. I believe that more attention should be given to those charities that pursue so-called "ethical" fundraising policies in flagrant disregard of Charity Law. My own organisation, Depression Alliance, accepts monies strictly in accordance with Charity Law, and our guidelines for accepting industry funding are in the public domain.

  Fourthly—and to mind critically—those that would have industry funding disallowed would have us miss a tremendous opportunity and would see us do an inexcusable disservice to our beneficiaries. Each of the parties to the industry/charity relationship has tremendous strengths. And corresponding weaknesses. The company has a wealth of research, of marketing expertise, of business acumen and of opportunities for communication. The charity tends to be service-user driven. It has detailed knowledge of its field. It is likely to have a much longer involvement in its core area, at a greater level of detail, than any company. These types of factors present opportunities to build strong relationships of great benefit to the consumer of charitable services—and the consumer of industry's products. Because, ultimately, they are one and the same person.

  For the above reasons and given the above safeguards, I am totally in favour of corporate funding of the charity sector. I believe any argument to the contrary is naive. More seriously, I believe that it would see limited the amount and quality of services we in the sector are able to deliver to our beneficiaries and that is diametrically opposed to the notion of

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