Thomson Reuters Foundation

Public trust in charities in Britain has declined since the sex scandal centring on aid agency Oxfam broke in February, a study has found.

Just 54 per cent of respondents to a survey carried out by research consultancy nfpSynergy last month said they had "a great deal" or "quite a lot of" confidence in charities, down from 60 per cent in November.

But the decline was not as steep as expected, the study found, because the scandal affected mainly aid and development agencies whose standing was already dented by earlier controversies. That left other charitable sectors unscathed.

"Overseas charities are already seen differently by the public. They are trusted less, and are seen to need less money," the report said.

The survey of 1,000 people found aid and development agencies were the second least-trusted group after religious charities, retaining the confidence of just 36 per cent of 1,000 people interviewed, down from 40 per cent the previous year.

Cancer charities were in first place, enjoying the trust of 76 per cent of respondents.

From Oxfam staff using prostitutes in Haiti to Syrian women exploited in return for aid, and the harassment of women in the head offices of global charities, the sector has been rattled by media coverage of sexual wrongdoing in recent months.

A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in February found more than 120 staff from about 20 leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs last year over sexual misconduct.

Since the sexual abuse scandal broke, aid agencies have reported 80 cases where they have caused harm, or a risk of harm, to the Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales.

"Humanitarian and development charities are already taking steps to investigate the extent of the problem, and to prevent and root out exploitation across the sector," said Tamsyn Barton, the head of Bond, an umbrella group of international development organisations.

"It is also important to remember that most staff and volunteers who work in some of the toughest contexts are there to help people facing extreme poverty, climate change and conflict," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.