Friday, 11 November 2011

A reply to David Babb of 38Degrees

This is one of what is becoming a series of blogposts written in half an hour of my lunch break. Hopefully this will force me not to ramble on at ridiculous length.

The other day I wrote a post about why I'm leaving 38Degrees over it's treatment of disability campaigners.

David Babb from 38Degrees was kind enough to leave a comment on the blogpost but unfortunately it got caught in the spam filters. I've rescued it, but, for those who missed it, here it is in full:
"It's David Babbs from 38 Degrees here. I've just posted the comment below on David Gillon's original blog post (

We have not "cancelled the results" of a previous poll. We run fresh polls every month or so, quite often with different options if new potential campaign ideas have arisen. This is so that we keep an up to date picture of what 38 Degrees members want to be working on.

You can read more about how 38 Degrees members shape what 38 Degrees campaigns here:

There's a detailed explantion of how the campaign suggestion forum "uservoice" works here:

And you can read news stories (and view stats) for past polls here:

I'm not sure why you think our legal advice confirmed that most of the problems with the NHS legislation have already been resolved. I think our legal team would be quite surprised to read that interpretation!

I am sorry to hear that you have decided to leave 38 Degrees. But that's obviously up to you.


My comment on David Gillon's blog:

Hi, it's David Babbs from 38 Degrees here. I am sorry it has taken some time to reply to this debate. The whole 38 Degrees office has been very busy pulling together the latest stage of our NHS campaign which needed to go live today in time for a debate in the House of Lords this Wednesday.

To be honest, not including welfare cuts in this month's member poll was a mistake. The member of the office team in charge of preparing the poll this month was in a car accident last weekend (she will be okay, but it was quite nasty and she's currently still off work). In the scramble to get the poll out in her absence we left a couple of things off by mistake. We couldn’t add an extra issue in half way through as that would have definitely badly skewed all the results.

I don't think the omission actually matters that much in the practice – though I am very sorry for the negative impression it has caused. We have polled the 38 Degrees membership around this issue several times before and I feel pretty sure on the basis of all that information that if we can find a way in which 38 Degrees members can make a real difference to this campaign, they will want to take part. The office team is already actively looking at ways we can contribute to this campaign, and we are in touch with many organisations active in this area. That won’t stop because of this omission.

There are two main reasons why we haven't done more on welfare cuts and their impact on disabled people so far. The first is that we are still only small and can only do a very limited number of things at once. The NHS campaign has been massive, and has been quite a struggle for us to keep on top of it. I wish we had more staff so we could do more. The second issue has been trying to work out where 38 Degrees members could add value to the excellent work already being done by other groups already. We don't want to simply duplicate (or even worse dilute) the great work of groups like Hardest Hit and Broken of Britain. We don't want to just do something for the sake of being seen to do something to.

The implication that we're in some way deliberately skewing the results of polls/ignoring past poll results because of some bias against disabled people is wrong. To be honest I find it a bit upsetting to read this accusation. As we explain on the uservoice forum, where an issue is popular we poll our membership on it in other ways. We don't rely on uservoice alone for two reasons: firstly most 38 Degrees members don't regularly visit so it isn't necessarily representative, and secondly non-members can vote which can skew the results. The DLA issue has been very high on uservoice for some time, which has led to us including it in several member polls since."
Unfortunately I have to disagree with quite a bit of what David Babbs has said.

For starters, he is correct in that they didn't cancel the poll. They started a new monthly one.

But what he doesn't mention is that the issue here stems from the fact that there were two very popular campaign suggestions relating to disability benefits. 38Degrees then agreed to merge the two campaign suggestions given that they were so similar.

However, in the process, thousands of votes were lost. 38Degrees promised to fix this. Months later and, despite repeated promised they would, they still haven't got round to restoring the missing votes. There have been a lot of peope complaining to them about this but they've been brushed off and ignored.

And the fact is that these missing votes, plus subsequent votes in other monthly polls, show that this is a campaign idea that has massive support from 38Degrees members. Despite that, there hasn't been any kind of other consultation with members - which means that the excuse about "not using uservoice alone" is a load of hokum. This is clearly a popular issue yet they haven't even taken baby steps towards looking at potentially running a campaign.

On top of that, if they are so member driven, then why is it that another reason given for not doing the campaign is because they don't want to duplicate the work of other organisations? Believe it or not, more than one organisation campaigning on something is usually more effective than just one. I can't even believe that David Babbs seems to think that they shouldn't campaign on an issue just because someone else is - does that mean they'll be stopping their forests campaign given that the National Trust is also campaigning on the issue?

Now, it is reasonable enough that David says that 38Degrees doesn't have the resources to run lots of campaigns. But let's be honest, a lot of their activities involve writing petitions and getting people to sign them and to also write to MPs or peers. That isn't particularly intensive given that all it requires is sending out emails to their members and that there are lots of disabled people who would leap at the chance to volunteer to help with this by actually doing the research to write the petition and all that other stuff that might otherwise consume 38Degrees resources.

And, given that this issue was more popular with their members even than the NHS, why is it that they can't spare the resources for disabled people but can spare the resources for three separate campaigns on wildlife in general, forests and badgers? Are you really telling me that those all necessitate a separate, dedicated campaign each while 2 million disabled people don't even deserve one?

Finally, with regards to the legal advice produced by the NHS, here's a very good analysis of what the advice actually said and how it's been misrepresented by 38Degrees. Basically, one of the big things 38Degrees has been campaigning against (and frightening people about) is the "opening of the NHS to competition law" in a manner they say will be just as though the NHS were a utility like gas or electricity. But, when you actually look at the bill, you can see that there is no change between the current competition regime and the one used in the NHS bill.

The other thing they're tearing their hair out over is the removal of the "duty to provide". But again, in point of fact, the only significant change is replacing the current Primary Care Trusts (which currently have the "duty to provide") with GP consortiums (which will have an identical "duty to provide").

Now, I don't agree with the NHS bill in its entirety and, overall, I think it's a massive waste of time and resources. However, the way 38Degrees presents the issues over the NHS reforms is misleading and fosters misunderstanding. So you'll have to excuse me if I also disagree with David Babbs over their legal advice.


  1. Babbs is talking nonsense. They have the resources to jump on the already high profile and well financed Robin Hood campaign - Oxfam alone have given the campaign £45,000. They just don't do real.

  2. They have been promising to help for 8 months and done nothing - excuses and excuses... I can only conclude that the sick and disabled are not a popularity winner for them, or they are being told what to do by...?

  3. I've just put the following campaign suggestion to 38 Degrees

    Please sign Pat's Petition!
    Pat Onions has submitted an e-petition to the government website. Pat is blind and Pat is also a carer. Pat is calling on the Government to stop and review the cuts to benefits and services for disabled people which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families.

    Please sign this petition! We need 100,000 signatures to generate a debate in Parliament!

    And please ask friends, family and any organisations you belong to, to sign and get others to sign too.

    Let's see what 38 Degrees do with this one!

  4. Thanks a hell of a lot for this, George. I'm in agreement with all of 38 degrees' campaigns, but although people are dying, badgers are more important? Seriously, David Babbs, this is what you think?

    Part of the problem is that a lot of able people don't realise just how bad disabled people have it and how much physical risk (starvation through loss of income/hate crime/suicide etc) we are at. I didn't until I became one myself. Big multicampaign organisations could help an enormous amount even in pointing out to people that their safety net is being taken away.


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.