Whistleblowing reports in the charity sector have risen by almost 85% in a year in the wake of the Oxfam sex abuse scandal, government data has revealed.
Last year the charity was accused of covering up claims that staff sexually exploited victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Figures published by the Charity Commission on Thursday revealed that the number of serious incidents and whistleblowing cases have risen sharply since the scandal emerged. It added that the Oxfam scandal acted as a “catalyst” for highlighting safeguarding failures within the sector.
The watchdog published its annual report for 2018-19 and found that within the charity sector, there had been an 83% increase in whistleblowing incidents, with figures rising from 101 to 185.
Last month the commission published its long-awaited investigation into the charity which accused it of underplaying the scale of allegations made by victims in Haiti and the UK in an attempt to protect the charity’s reputation and keep donations flooding in.
It also found that the charity failed to respond adequately to allegations that aid workers in Haiti were sexually abusing women whom they were supposed to be helping and there were allegations that Oxfam abuse victims were sent back to war zones after complaints were raised against aid workers.
The Commission concluded that there was a “culture of poor behaviour” at the charity, and issued it with an official warning over its “mismanagement”. Oxfam accepted the findings, saying what happened in Haiti was “shameful”.
The Charity Commission’s annual report also found that the number of serious incidents reported by charities had risen from 2,819 to 3,895, marking a 38% increase in a year. However this figure again rose regarding the number of serious incidents linked to safeguarding made by charities, up from 1,580 to 2,504, marking a 58% increase.
The report said that since the revelations about Oxfam became public in February 2018, “reports of serious incidents from other charities have risen significantly” and that “that increase is accounted for by growing reports of safeguarding failures and near misses”.
It added: “The Oxfam case has had a significant wider impact within the sector. The Commission had long highlighted the importance of effective safeguarding in charities, and had been raising concerns about significant underreporting of incidents across the sector.
“But the Oxfam revelations acted as a catalyst, highlighting that, in the eyes of the public and beneficiaries, safeguarding failures in charities are never just ‘collateral damage’; they can risk undermining the very essence of charity, making it vital that charities take steps to prevent failures and respond swiftly, responsibly, and openly when they do occur.”
The watchdog said that the significant rise follows work undertaken to raise auditors’ awareness of reporting requirements alongside concerns regarding underreporting.
A spokeswoman said: “We are pleased that more people involved in charities are coming forward to make whistleblowing reports where they have concerns. We know that it can be difficult for people with close links to an organisation to come forward where they have serious concerns, and we also know that their insight and information can be crucial in helping us hold charities to account.”
Helen Stephenson, CEO and Accounting Officer for the Charity Commission, said: “Public expectations of charity, and the role of charity in our society, are changing, and it is vital that charities change with it. As the regulator, we exist to serve the public interest, and are committed to ensuring everything we do helps charity thrive and inspire trust so that people can improve lives and strengthen society.”