Charities begin at home – Why?

During an exchange of emails with Elmbridge councillors, which is well documented on this site, I was accused by a Tory councillor, no less, of denigrating the work carried out by volunteers/charity workers; she was referring specifically, on this occasion, to the volunteers who deliver Meals-on-Wheels but the hint was that I was anti all charitable workers.  Wrong, on the contrary, I am full of admiration for the roles these unselfish people perform.

Where I branch off from the path of unstinting praise for charities, is the use of them by successive governments as a means of fulfilling the government’s moral responsibilities without any fiscal contribution. In other words, it is an indirect tax on society. It is well documented that most contributions to charities are made by the less well off thus contributing to a more uneven and unfair distribution of wealth.

Charities should not be necessary in a civilised and wealthy country like ours. The disadvantaged and sick should not have to rely on donations from the public for society to perform, potentially, life-saving work. The work against Cancer, heart disease, mental health and all the other killer diseases should be adequately funded through direct taxation. It is beyond belief that in one of the wealthiest societies in the world, these and other equally deserving causes should be begging, for that is what it is, for a few coppers from each of us.

Charities are being forced into acting like corporate entities to accrue as much money as they can. They usually have expensive CEOs and marketing executives to pay for before they start helping others. Unfortunately, they sometimes are sucked into adopting what could be considered as unethical practices.

Over the holiday period I had a conversation with a family member who used to run a café in Southern England. She said that near their café, which was on a public open space, a group of homeless people used to spend the night in a copse. As a naturally caring person she allowed the homeless access to the café’s toilets and showers every morning and eventually she provided them with free tea and left over scones etc. from the day before. The homeless people very much appreciated this humane gesture and she and her husband soon made new friends.

She was astonished therefore, to receive a letter from the local council threatening to withdraw her licence to operate unless she ceased this practice immediately. They suggested that she was encouraging rough sleepers. To her credit, she ignored the letter but eventually she sold the café. The seemingly callous attitude of the local council has a nasty sting in the tail.

She has since heard that the original complaint came from a charity which fed homeless people. They receive a subsidy from the local council based on the number of ‘clients’ they serve per week and my relative’s kind acts were perceived as possibly depriving them of future income, never mind that some homeless people were having their dignity restored if only for a couple of hours; no doubt the charity was struggling to pay the CEO’s large salary.

The point of that story is to emphasise what desperate measures some charities will take to get extra income to replace the cuts imposed by this heartless Tory government. But there’s no need for all this. If central government tore up the budget and started from scratch, we could easily afford to pay for these and other, services without raising taxes. It’s called prioritisation. Do we really need to spend £100 Billion on Trident (BBC Reality Check April 2015) and given the MoD’s notorious overspend culture, probably much more? A former Chief of Defence staff pointed out on BBC news that if we ever have to use Trident missiles then the deterrent element has failed. Work it out.

Or over £20Billion to get from London to Birmingham 20 minutes quicker? All I ask is that we at least consider our options and prioritise them. Until that heady, if unlikely, day, this household will continue the direct debits per month to a few national charities and ad hoc contributions and support for local charities, just like a lot of our fellow citizens.

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