Earlier this month another controversy rocked the embattled charity Mermaids, when a Trustee was found to have given a speech to a paedophile aid group. While the charity has been in the news a lot recently, its long-standing connection to public bodies since 2012 has flown under the radar.
Earlier this year an investigation by the TaxPayers’ Alliance found that Mermaids received £20,483 in taxpayer funding from 2018 to 2021. Rushmoor council hired the group at a cost of £700 to provide ‘training’, while Havering council paid £1,583 for an unknown purpose.
The group also received funding from the Department for Education to deliver training in 40 schools in the period 2017-2019 (through the LGBT Consortium). Although we have not been able to ascertain the amount spent on this training, it is clear what Mermaids training entails. The Mermaids website describes “Managing single-sex spaces” and “Transgender terminology” as key parts of a ‘typical training session’. Elsewhere, they stridently criticised the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) guidance on single sex spaces. Subsequent Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) grants to Mermaids totalled £15,000 between 2019-20 and 2020-21. The money funded residential retreats in Watford for transgender young people and their families. Let’s remember, this is not an impartial support service or an NHS organisation - but a lobby group that responds to political speeches and actively campaigns for policy change. Therein lies the problem: taxpayers are being expected to subsidise, via the cash handed out by these public bodies, campaign groups blatantly involved in political lobbying. This is totally unacceptable.
What’s more, the amount that Mermaids has received from the UK government is relatively low compared to connected organisations. Gendered Intelligence, which is described as a ‘partner organisation’ by Mermaids, received £287,954 in taxpayers’ money from 2018-2021.
Stonewall also received £3 million from public sector bodies from 2018 to 2021, which was mostly payment for their ‘Diversity Champions’ scheme. This scheme seems reminiscent of the training offered by Mermaids, seeking to “embed LGBTQ+ inclusion in your workplace”. More recently, Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence have supported Mermaids in a legal bid to have another group, the LGB Alliance (who apparently don’t receive government cash), stripped of its charitable status.
It is difficult to see why public bodies treat these lobbying groups as politically neutral service providers. In the midst of a robust public debate about transgender identities in sport, Gendered Intelligence was given £134,430 to promote ‘trans inclusion’ to National Governing Bodies of sports. Documents produced by Gendered Intelligence advise sports teams to let transgender individuals play on whichever team they want, argue that transgender women have no physical advantage, and that nobody would pretend to transition in order to gain access to single-sex spaces. By funding these groups, the taxpayer is effectively forced to take a side on a fractious political issue.
When it comes to controversial political and social matters, public bodies are too comfortable deferring to partial, campaigning organisations. The case of Mermaids shows that taxpayers’ money can end up lining the coffers of organisations which should have no recourse to public funds. The TPA does not and would not receive government funding. The same goes for many others, like Greenpeace. There is no reason for taxpayer-funded lobbying, and it simply has to stop.