Big Society; Big Business

Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.” ~ John D Rockefeller

Charity: late Old English (in the sense ‘Christian love of one’s fellows’): from Old French charite (charité), from Latin caritas, from carus ‘dear’ [OED]

Charity is to voluntarily assist that which one holds dear. It is a noble, wonderful concept that demonstrates the caring and generosity of the human spirit. Charity can be international, national or local and be in aid of both collective and individual causes, the most moving, beautiful and appropriate sort being when big, open hearts crowd-fund in the face of sudden large-scale emergencies and small, singular causes. It can begin at home and be brought home and, for the reasons my friend, activist and fellow blogger, Jayne Linney, gives: local charities “are the Ones (most) worth supporting”.

Charity gives: of time and things. It is a service of the heart, whether by true compassion or by there-for-the-grace-of relief and/or guilt.

But Big Charity is big, big business. It creates think tanks, makes financial investments – and reeeeally long advertisements, gets generous tax relief, requires paid staff, is funded by fickleness… It is politicised and corporatised. As such, Poverty is a massive investment opportunity and Charity is a bubble that need not burst.

Personally, I think it’s rather depressing that a ‘developed’ nation still requires so many charities at all and I think it’s appalling that so many are so sorely needed now, just to cover for infrastructural, economic and attitudinal inadequacies.

And yet.. At this moment in time: thank goodness for Charity, whatever its size and form! And for those who donate and those who are volunteering themselves quite ragged, such is the struggle to meet increasing needs. For, under neoliberal socio-economic policies there are now many more holes in the safety net and Charity, in its myriad forms, is indeed the only entity plugging the most desperate and wholly deliberately made gaps. But, as Ekklesia’s wonderful writer, Bernadette Meaden says, “picking up the pieces” is also to risk “letting the government off the hook”. Conservatives see schemes like food banks as supply side economics (the double-thinking nerve of it!) – as a mark of enlightened social and economic success in a civilised people – so the demand they create, through their cruel policies, is spun as evidence that their Victorianesque ‘Big Society’ aspiration is working.

But how ignorant and reckless to purposefully shrink a perfectly reasonable remit of the State and replace it with an outsourced expectation of deeds of guilt and good will. How frighteningly regressive, negligent and patronising is that?! And how shortsighted and complacent is a Society that, rather than lamenting and questioning the political causes of the constant need for Charitable intervention, is, instead, content or resigned to putting its faith in and relying on the philanthropy of the wealthy and powerful – those who also co-create and perpetuate the dependency and help formulate the policies of government. And how terrifying for those demographics compelled to depend upon it in their increasing numbers.

Big Charity is another vehicle by which a government absolves itself of its duties to the State – that’s all of us, remember – and outsources its most ideologically inconvenient socio-economic responsibilities to private organisations. And when Big Charity actually becomes a contracted public service provider, who are its clients: those that provide the funds (which this Government is reducing)  or the intended beneficiaries as per the mission statement? And how pernicious is it that philanthropic organisations should depend upon the perpetuation of the very causes they set themselves up to alleviate and eradicate? It’s a most unpleasant symbiosis that doesn’t look anything like progress and I think we shouldn’t accept it because, while we do, any chance at developing an economy and a more equitable society that truly serves us all is greatly inhibited. What about Society is ‘dear’ to us and what will be the cost if we forsake it..?

What kind of country (or however many countries we are, nowadays) do libertarian proponents think Britain will become as the vast majority of the population is arbitrarily relegated to second-, third- or even no-rate status? Just how long could such a state of affairs actually last? How much country would there be left and who and how many could thrive in it? Or really want to? The trajectory hints at the dystopia of many science fictions.

A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.” ~ Ralph Nader

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