One in four Scots does not trust charities or believe they act in the public interest, based on research carried out before the Oxfam scandal.
Public trust in Scotland’s charities has plummeted by almost 10 per cent in the past two years, the survey carried out by Ipsos MORI in December found.
And only 73 per cent of Scots said they agreed that “most charities are trustworthy and act in the public interest”, meaning more than a quarter doubt the running of such aid organisations. Charities had earned an 82 per cent trust rating when the same poll was carried out in 2015, suggesting the public was losing faith in the sector even before the recent allegations.
The damning assessment was revealed after MPs yesterday heard Oxfam has received 26 allegations of misconduct since the Haiti sex scandal erupted a fortnight ago.
It also emerged last night a former chief executive of Save the Children was facing three complaints of inappropriate behaviour towards female staff before leaving the charity.
Justin Forsyth has been accused of sending texts to young female staff about how they looked and what they were wearing.
Earlier this month it was revealed that Oxfam staff working in Haiti and other countries paid vulnerable people for sex, sparking a crisis in the aid industry.
The Scottish survey also recorded a similar fall in the number of people giving charities trust scores of six out of ten and above, from 67 per cent in 2015 to 57 per cent now.
The findings have prompted the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) to launch a campaign called “I Love Charity” amid evidence donations are being hit.
The poll also found negative media stories about charities had a significant impact, with more than a third of respondents (38 per cent) saying this was behind their loss of trust.
Despite the recent fall, charities remain among the most trusted institutions in the UK, ranking just behind doctors and the police and well above politicians, businesses and banks. Scots were also much more likely to trust charities they had dealt with personally. A fifth of the 1,000 adults surveyed gave such institutions a trust grade of ten out of ten.
SCVO public affairs director John Downie said: “Although trust in the sector is still high, these findings should act as a wake-up call for Scottish charities.
“We know the vast majority of Scottish charities are well run, but trust is fragile. While bad practice should be weeded out wherever it exists, we must act now to protect the reputations of charities that are well run and do amazing work.”
Jane Salmonson, chief executive of Scotland’s International Development Alliance, said: “I am very sorry to say that the decrease in public trust revealed by this survey would have been worse had the survey been conducted last week, not last year. Of course public trust in charities will be suffering because of these scandals and that is a terrible thing. We are determined to win back public trust, but we can’t just say to people ‘trust us’.
“We need to show them what we are doing to improve screening of job applicants, to use the best safeguarding practices and to build and nurture an organisational culture which genuinely realises the values of our sector.”
Giving evidence to the Commons international development committee, Oxfam GB’s chief executive Mark Goldring said about 7,000 people had cancelled regular donations to Oxfam over the past ten days, adding corporate sponsors appeared to be “reserving judgment”. He said 16 of the claims stemmed from abroad, while ten came from the UK.
Mr Goldring publicly apologised for the actions of charity staff who sexually exploited female victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
And he also apologised for his own comments, which appeared to play down the seriousness of the scandal, when he told a newspaper the charity was being attacked as if it had “murdered babies in their cots”.
The parliamentary hearing comes in the wake of news of resignations and dismissals of Oxfam staff in Haiti after allegations of “sex parties” involving prostitutes.
Committee chairman Stephen Twigg said the parallel the charity chief had drawn with the murder of babies was regarded by many people as “grossly inappropriate”.
“I was under stress,” Mr Goldring said. “I’d given many interviews, I’d made many decisions to try to lead Oxfam’s response to this. I was thinking about amazing work I’ve seen Oxfam do across the world, most recently with refugees coming from Myanmar. I should not have said those things.”
Oxfam International’s executive director Winnie Byanyima told the committee: “Some hideous men came into our organisation and abused the trust of the British people, the supporters. But they were able to get away, to get a recommendation to leave. This was wrong.”