Frequently Asked Questions
The Centre is an unusual organisation and often people make false assumptions about what it is and how it works. Here Dr Simon Duffy who founded the Centre answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the Centre and its work:
The Centre describes itself as a citizen think-tank, what does that mean?
The term ‘citizen think tank’ was invented by one of our Fellows, Markus Vähälä, and I think it’s a good name for two reasons:
- Our central moral and political belief is that everyone is equal, everyone is different and we need to live together in communities of equal citizenship. Equal citizenship is our central focus and a lot of our work is about trying to figure out how societies can take that ideal seriously.
- We are organised to try and give voice to people who are most excluded from citizenship and we welcome contributions from anyone who thinks they have something to share that can advance our equal citizenship. The Centre helps by providing citizens with a platform to share their thinking, research and experience. We use publishing and social media to share these ideas.
Your name is the Centre for Welfare Reform, what does that mean?
Calling it the Centre for Welfare Reform may have been a mistake. Today most people assume that ‘welfare reform’ means attacking the welfare state. We think this is a terrible idea. We love the welfare state, we believe the welfare state is essential, but it is not always perfect. So we believe that in a decent society good citizens will want to keep improving and strengthening their welfare state, so that it gets better at supporting citizenship for everyone.
Having said this it has not always been easy to keep our focus on improving the welfare state. Since 2010 the UK has had an extreme Right-wing government which has been more successful at damaging and dismantling the welfare state than any previous government. Much more of our energy has been focused on trying to help campaigners battle the UK Government. For instance, we’ve published lots of material on how the cuts have targeted disabled people.
What type of organisation is the Centre for Welfare Reform ?
Legally the Centre for Welfare Reform is a private limited company, co-owned by myself (Simon Duffy) and my wife (Nicola Protopapadakis). It is also a social enterprise, in the sense that it’s purpose is to advance the common good, not to make money.
Shouldn’t the Centre be a charity instead?
If you want to attract money from funders it is better to be a charity. But charities can have many problems. Charity Law in England is very restrictive, for instance here’s what the guidance from the Charity Commission says:
Charity law defines political activity as any activity that aims to promote or oppose a change in the law or Government policy. Charities can undertake political activity in support of their charitable aims, but it’s not acceptable for a charity to pursue its aims solely through political activities. This is because charities can never have a political purpose – so an organisation which exists purely to campaign for a change in the law is not a charity. Whether or not charities choose to undertake political activity, they must never support or oppose a particular political party or endorse a particular political candidate.
For me this is far too restrictive. I want the Centre to be free to do whatever is most helpful to advance the cause of justice. I think that too many charities have kept quiet about the current crisis in the UK in order to stay in step with Charity Law or to get approval from the Government. I think this is a disaster. There are still good charities out there and we work with some of them; but I also think they are grateful that we can say things they can’t.
If you are not a charity how are you funded?
Funding the Centre is a problem. However, since setting it up in 2009 we have continued to receive a modest level of funding from a variety of sources:
- A small number of our publications receive funding
- Some people pay for me to do work with them
- We are sometimes funded to do small research projects
In reality we are probably funded for less than 25% of our work. Most of our work is done for free (pro bono). We survive by paying ourselves very low salaries and then, at the end of the year, we can sometimes pay ourselves a little more if there’s money available.
Does that mean the Centre is just two people?
No. The Centre currently has 4 employees, this includes 2 researchers with disabilities. In addition we have just under 100 Fellows. Fellowships are awarded to people who contribute to the Centre by sharing their thinking and our core values.
Is the Centre’s work a Disabled Person’s Organisation (DPO)?
Currently 50% of our employees have disabilities and 18 Fellows have disabilities or mental health problems, although this figure may be higher, for there is no requirement to share this information. Several Fellows also have close family relatives with disabilities or mental health problems and several have worked closely with people with disabilities and their families.
However the Centre does not aim to speak for disabled people or claim to be an organisation run by disabled people. The Centre works internationally to promote citizenship for all and help create inclusive communities that work for everyone. Its work is informed by multiple experiences of diversity, particularly the experiences of people with disabilities. But we are also want to tackle many other injustices and we aim to also reflect the experience of people from different countries, ethnic communities, genders, sexualities and to support the interests of the poorest.
How do we know what the Centre thinks on any topic?
I am always a little nervous of saying what the Centre thinks or proposes, although occasionally we may use that language. It seems to me that people, real life individuals, are the only things that we know of that actually think.
I do sometimes speak in my formal role as the Director of the Centre, and sometimes Fellows may choose to speak as Fellows of the Centre, but even then it is the individual who is thinking or speaking. The organisation is a fiction, possible a useful fiction, but a fiction nonetheless.
Certainly, as the ultimate editor of our publications, I would not publish anything I did not think had positive value. However I do not always agree with the details of everything we publish. We have published hundreds of reports and articles and we also host hundreds more in our online library. Speaking personally, part of the value of the Centre for me is that I get the chance to listen to the ideas and experiences of many different people; sometimes the people you learn most from are the people you disagree with. I was trained as a philosopher and the joy of good philosophy is the art of respectful disagreement and challenge. I think the world would be a better place if we could manage to listen better to each other's points of view and could challenge someone's thinking without attacking their personal integrity or value.
What is the future for the Centre for Welfare Reform?
I think the Centre continues to play a useful role in challenging the assumptions of powerful groups like the UK Government, some charities and big business. We continue to share good quality research and thinking. I hope that we can manage to sustain that role over the long-run. We are certainly finding that increasing numbers of independently-minded people are coming to us with high quality work that we can publish.
Recently discussions with the Centre’s Fellows have led me to think that the Centre could also help to develop a broader alliance for change around the world. We are now a partner in the international cooperative Citizen Network and we’re working to develop a sustainable membership model that can help bring people together around the values of equal citizenship for all. This is another uncertain enterprise; but hopefully we can help do something positive in our fractured world.