Update from Westminster – 24/1/2013

This week: EU Referendum announcement, Volker Beckers appointment at HMRC, Question to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Chairing of the whole House.

Local MP stands up to prejudice by signing Holocaust Memorial Day Book of Commitment

This week John Robertson MP signed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, in doing so pledging hiscommitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who died during the Holocaust.

Sunday January 27th will mark the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration and extermination camp which is the site of the largest mass murder in history. In the weeks running up to the day, the Holocaust Educational Trust placed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, giving MPs the chance to honour those who were persecuted and killed during the Holocaust and encouraging constituents to work together to combat prejudice and racism today.

In signing the Book of Commitment, Mr Robertson paid tribute to those who perished during the Holocaust and honoured the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people about what they endured, through the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Outreach programme.

In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. This year, people will also be encouraged to honour those communities that have been destroyed by genocide and reflect on the importance of coming together to oppose prejudice and hatred.

John Robertson MP said:

“Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity to remember the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides. I encourage all constituents to mark the day and to join members of community in the fight against prejudice and intolerance.”

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:

“We are proud that John Robertson is supporting Holocaust Memorial Day this year. It is vitally important that we both remember and learn from the appalling events of the Holocaust – as well as ensuring that we continue to challenge all forms of hatred and bigotry.”


About the Holocaust Educational Trust

  • Founded by Lord Janner of Braunstone and the late Lord Merlyn Rees, the Holocaust Educational Trust was formed in 1988 as a result of renewed interest and need for knowledge about the Holocaust during the passage of the War Crimes Act. Our aim is to raise awareness and understanding in schools and amongst the wider public of the Holocaust and its relevance today. We believe the Holocaust must have a permanent place in our nation’s collective memory.
  • One of the Trust’s first achievements was to ensure that the Holocaust was included in the National Curriculum for England in 1991 – for Key Stage 3 students (11-14 year olds). We also successfully campaigned to have the assets of Holocaust victims and survivors released and returned to their rightful owners.
  • Since 1999 the Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz Project has given thousands of post-16 students and teachers the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of a four-part educational programme. The Project is now in its fourteenth year and has taken more than 18,000 students and teachers from across the UK to Auschwitz-Birkenau, as well as many MPs and other guests. We recently marked our 100th project visit.
  • Having played a crucial role in the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK in 2001, the Trust continues to play a key role in the delivery of this national commemorative day.
  • We work in schools, colleges and higher education institutions, providing teacher training workshops and lectures, as well as teaching aids and resource materials.
  • Every year in the days leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day, HET places a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons for MPs to sign and pledge to remember the Holocaust and act on its contemporary lessons.
  • The Holocaust Educational Trust is a charitable company limited by guarantee,registered in England and Wales (1092892) and in Scotland (SC042996). We rely on individual donations to produce our resources and deliver our educational programmes, with the exception of the Lessons from Auschwitz Project, which is supported by a Government grant. If you would like information on how to donate to HET and support our work, please call us on 020 7222 6822, visit our website www.het.org.uk, and follow us on Twitter: @HolocaustUK and Facebook: Holocaust Educational Trust (UK).

Post on ‘Britain Backs Charities’

Here is an article I wrote following my Westminster Hall debate on ‘Trends in donations to charities’, which was published here.

Response to Debate on ‘Trends in donations to charities’: John Robertson MP

Posted: January 21, 2013 

John Robertson, the Member of Parliament for Glasgow North West, called a Westminster Hall Debate on the 8th January on the nominated topic of ‘Trends in donations to charities’. Here he blogs for the Back Britain’s Charities campaign on the problems with giving as he sees them…

Towards the end of last year, worrying reports from the Charities Aid Foundation and NCVO showed that there has been a 20% drop in donations and that one in six charities are facing closure this year. We need to address this issue seriously and urgently.

We rely heavily on charities to provide vital support for some of Britain’s  most vulnerable people. Thousands of volunteers and donors know this – and give both their time and money to support them. But the Government knows this too. In fact, in its ‘Big Society’ plan, charities are the central pillar providing community support. This is why it needs to address this issue before it is too late.

In the Westminster Hall debate on the 8th January I raised a number of possible solutions. I was shocked to learn that £750 million worth of Gift Aid goes unclaimed each year. The ‘Back Britain’s Charities’ campaign says that Gift Aid needs modernising. This is absolutely correct. I called for a central database where ‘Gift Aiders’ could register their details, making it easier for charities to claim it every time.

Both my colleague Jim Sheridan MP and I also called for unclaimed Gift Aid to be given to charities. I have recently tabled a parliamentary question asking that it is put to a tendering process at the end of each financial year. We will see what the answer is, but Chloe Smith, the Cabinet Office Minister, did not seem enthusiastic about the idea. I was disappointed that she chose to make, as she said, “a political point”, rather than address this serious issue.

Payroll giving is also massively underutilised. Only 3% of people donate in this way, and yet it could cost a donor as little as £5 to donate £10. We need an awareness campaign around this system and, like Gift Aid, the system needs to be modernised to make it easier for charities and donors to use.

Donating systems are stuck in the past. Alongside the cumbersome Gift Aid and Payroll giving systems, Apple still does not let people donate directly through Apps. Amazon is also taking away significant donations from charity shops through selling ebooks and digital media, and I think it is about time they give something back to society and create an online charity marketplace for second hand media.

I was dissapointed that the Minister was unable to respond more positively to some of the ideas that I put forward – ideas that have been endorsed by many key representatives from the third sector. Many charities are suffering, and it is the most vulnerable in society who are feeling the effects. I believe that the Government needs to act urgently to make donating to charities easier and to ensure that the charitable sector has a sustainable, vibrant future.

Update from Westminster – 9/1/2013

This week: Energy work in 2013, Debate on Donations to Charities, Upratings Bill & Internet Access


Government ignores solutions to help smaller charities that are struggling to weather economic times.

In a debate in parliament today, MPs debated how the more than 90% of charities that are small and medium sized could access more donations and the £750 million worth of Gift Aid left unclaimed each year. John Robertson MP, who called for the debate, said the Gift Aid system needed modernising, so that charities could check donors on a central system and claim the money more easily. Chloe Smith, Minister for the Cabinet Office, replied with what she called a “political point”, saying that this unclaimed money is diverted to other public services instead.

Following the debate, John Robertson, the MP for Glasgow North West, said: “It is disgusting that so much money, which small charities need in order to survive, is totally dismissed. There are real and simple solutions that could be put in place, but this Tory-led government is uninterested in helping vulnerable people. It wanted charities to be the pillar of its ‘Big Society’ and yet is unwilling to look into any ways that could help them do this.”

The debate was called following reports suggesting charitable donations were down 20% last year and one in six charities are facing closure in 2013.


The text of the debate can be read here.

The debate can be watched here.

My article on PoliticsHome

Here is an article I wrote on my Westminster Hall debate on ‘Trends in donations to charities’, which was published here.

John Robertson MP has arranged a Westminster Hall debate on trends in donations to charities. He recognises the important role charities play across the country and how many rely solely on donations to keep going.

The charity sector is in crisis. Towards the end of last year, charities announced a 20% drop in donations and one in six said it is facing closure this year if something does not change. We rely heavily on charities to support the most vulnerable in our society – in fact the Government’s ‘Big Society’ puts them at the heart of this.

Charities provide much needed – and often niche – services. One charity for example, One in Four, says that it relies on donations and yet 80% of its clients are referred to them by the NHS. Another example comes from my constituency, where there are now more senior citizens than sixteen year olds. The Glasgow Old People’s Welfare Association provides support and care for these elderly people who are struggling with soaring living costs. It is clear that charities play critical role in our society and we need to protect them.

This January it is make or break for hundreds of voluntary organisations across the country. Welfare reform and the reduction in child benefit allowances are going to hit charities from all directions. Vulnerable people are facing difficult times and more people will be turning to our voluntary organisations for support. This trend has already begun, with the Trussell Trust charity doubling the number of food banks it oversees. From the other direction, charities are suffering from decreased personal budgets. Those who could afford to give in the past are having to make sacrifices – and charity donations are, unfortunately, one of the first things to go.

It is time we did something to protect these vital support lines. In this debate I will be looking at ways we can increase donations from the public, as well as making donations go that little bit further by improving and modernising the Gift Aid system. The rise in new technologies also provides both a threat and opportunity to charities. While online marketplaces are strong competition to charity shops, we could do more to encourage donations through the internet and in other ways.

The Government wanted to make charities a pillar of its support system. It therefore needs to put more resources into ensuring they are able to fulfil this role. We are facing a bleak 2013 if nothing is done and I hope through this debate we can protect the thousands of people who rely on our great British charities.

John Robertson is MP for Glasgow North West.

The Westminster Hall debate is 4.30 – 5pm on Tuesday 8 January.

Response: Charities Aid Foundation

Charities Aid Foundation

“We are delighted that John Robertson MP is leading today’s debate on the subject of charitable donations. Pressure on the services that charities provide is greater than ever, particuarly as donations are in decline and government funding is being stripped back.

“Mr Robertson quotes CAF’s UK Giving report and states that charitable giving has plummeted by 20% in 2011/12 – a completely unprecedented decline. A CAF survey of charity chief executives also found that 26% had cut frontline services and 25% had made staff cuts.

“In response, alongside the NCVO, we have launched the Back Britain’s Charities campaign and urge everyone to sign-up. The campaign seeks to highlight the valuable work charities do within our communities, often providing help for the most vulnerable amongst us. We want the government, businesses, the public and charities themselves to work together to secure the future of the voluntary sector and protect the vital contribution charities make to our society.”