Charity is a wonderful thing.
Originally the word related to a personal feeling of goodwill towards, and activity to help, those in reduced or less fortunate circumstances. It still means the same thing, but these days what people generally refer to with the word, is an organisation set up to do this for us.
It used to be that every person (and especially every lady) of a certain class – usually the staunch british Middle Classes – would be involved in a charity. It was seen as the way to “do one’s bit” to repay the kindness the lord had showered on you, whether by the accident of your birth or the circumstances of your marriage.
As the 20th century progressed, however, charities became more like organised and well-run businesses. Which is to say, they became professional in the manner of both their fundraising and the manner in which they apply said funds. After all, a streamlined and efficient charity ensures the largest proportion of the monies raised is used to support their beneficiaries.
Within a few decades, the Charity community (note the use of the capital) became a huge industry, employing many thousands of people who – because of their talents and the freedom from poverty that paid employment affords – were able to efficiently and effectively run their organisations in such a way as to maximise their impact at the coal-face of despair.
It used to be the case that after many years spent in employment, we could rely on the taxes we had paid to support us in our dotage. Or that, should injury or illness befall us, we could reach out for the support of our healthcare system, welfare state or once again the government to assist us. In both cases then, we would have no need for the angels who work at the call of Charities.
When I think of charities I know well, in the UK, I tend to put them in to a mental apartment block in order to distinguish between them. There are the Big Boys – on the third floor. These guys and gals – like Medicines Sans Frontiers, Amnesty International, Greenpeace etc, are all operating on a governmental level. They use the funds we send to assist their beneficiaries, but they also use them to lobby and demonstrate – on behalf of their benefactors (shareholders, in a perverse way) for governmental intervention. They argue against wrongs at the highest level, calling for changes in international laws, local regulations, or even national identities in order to achieve their aims.
On the second floor, I see the large research groups. Many are medical – Cancer Research – and others are scientific. These fellows use the monies we send in order to make the difference we are hoping for, but without effecting change in the lives of the individuals. Of course, 50% of those on clinical trials may benefit individually, but that is not their aim.
Below them, on the first floor but in a larger flat, I place the next group. This consists in the slightly smaller, yet just as active bunch, including Water Aid, Oxfam, Macmillan and Marie Curie nursing and support organisations, British Legions, Make A Wish, Help for Heroes and other very famous and hard-working groups. These guys are applying hundreds of millions of pounds to effect changes not on a global level, but to make a difference for individuals or groups of people. We may all at some time be touched by the cold finger of cancer, but we are not all subject to it constantly.
At the ground floor, working locally for much smaller sums, are the individuals. These fantastically motivated people are working very locally for the smaller causes. Almost everything they do is for an individual or group, and little can be used to change the wider world. I can think of many such organisations – from church tower funds to a charity set up by the parents of a boy to buy him artificial limbs, as the government will only do so every two years. (He needs them every 6-12 months, at a cost of thousands of pounds a time, as he is a growing faster than the government want him to.)
Now, all of these charities are doing fantastic jobs. They work together on occasion, but more often apart, to change lives either locally or nationally, even internationally. They stop people going without human contact (Help the Aged) and they support the ecologies required for Orangutans to survive the 21st century (WWF), they give our service men and women the support they need when returning from war (RBL & Help for Heroes) and help to pick up the pieces in the coutries they have left (OXFAM).
And we, as people of compassion, rightfully dig in to our pockets to support them. We throw coins in buckets at supermarket checkouts, we sponsor a friend to run the Marathon, and we rally our employers to match our funding with huge cheques.
Meanwhile, there are people who we are also paying to care. These people live far less frugally than Dave or Marion who shake a tin outside the town hall. They are paid far more than the Chuggers we have learned to avoid. They have many houses, and claim far more than in many cases they spend.
We employ a vast army of Civil Servants, Council workers, carers and other professionals to ensure that our elderly and infirm are cared for. We pay taxes in order that we can believe that those who have done us a great service will be rewarded for it. Our soldiers return with broken hearts at the loss of their closest friends, only to be betrayed and left to sleep on cold streets, washed only by rain and fed by the kindness of strangers.
Our universities hold some of the best resources, and are home to the finest minds in the world. We look to them for the groundbreaking research that will lead to the curing of all disease, the technology to end our dependance on fossil fuels, the next breakthrough in space travel to enable us to fly to the stars. And yet, without the government reducing our tax burden, suddenly we have to charge our poorest – the youngest students – thousands of pounds to be there.
In short, our government has outsourced its need to care. If someone needs food, then they can rely on a food bank. If they need medicines, and the drugs they require to return to a healthy and (importantly) economically useful life are not approved, they should start their own charity.
And all this while our taxes have increased.
I don’t blame one party or another. They have all taken over running this country from their opponents over the last 30 years, and while transitions are difficult, none of the governments I have lived through – survived through perhaps – have reduced the tax burden they so volubly condemned in opposition.
So yes, I long for the day when Charities will no longer be needed. I hope they do too.
When we fight the last war, and bury our last hero, the Legion will be needed to fold the banners, hold them, and salute. But no longer will they be feeding a starving ex-soldier in his dark, unheated slum.
When the cure is found, Carcer Research will wash and pack away their Petrie dishes and clap themselves on the back for a job well done. Redundancy would be a cheap price to pay for many of them for a life free from the fear of painfull, drawn out death.
When we finally find an equality we can share, Stonewall can fold its rainbow banners and retire in peace.
When our government start serving us in the way we require, by providing those things we have already paid for, we can thank Charity profusely for its efforts, and smiling and waving close the door as it leaves.
I wish Peace and Heath to you all.