A couple of weeks ago Jeremy Cripps, the Chief Executive of Children North East wrote a powerful blog about how funding cuts passed from central government to the local authority and then to his charity meant that they were unable to afford to provide a meal for some children in temporary accommodation over the summer holidays that they work with. Jeremy wrote:
here we have a Government without the humanity to care for very vulnerable people until they are deported by giving them even a minimal amount of money to feed their children; a local authority providing shelter for those families but forced to cut back on its spending by the Government; passing that cut on to a charity which too has to economise; the buck passes to the charity’s staff who cannot stand by and do nothing while in daily contact with children in basic need of food; so they take it upon themselves to make sure children do not go hungry. This is the reality of the so-called ‘Big Society’ in ‘austerity Britain’.
This story was picked up by the Guardian Cuts Blog which ran it under the headline ‘who pays for lunch when the state does a runner?’ and another similar story was posted earlier today
Earlier this year, as part of a blogging day during Volunteers Week, Carrie Brookes of VONNE asked readers to ‘imagine if we all stopped volunteering tomorrow’, noting that the value of unpaid care in the UK had been calculated at around £87bn. She finished her blog thus:
The fact is that much of the work undertaken by volunteers and charities saves the state a huge amount of money. Prevention of problems such as poor health, teenage pregnancies, helping people get back into the workplace, support for homeless people, advice and guidance, drug rehabilitation, they all save the state an awful lot of money. A lot more than the £87bn mentioned above. We cannot afford to deal with the consequences to society if that support for volunteers and activity they support is stopped. (my emphasis)
The last line of Carrie’s blog provides a flip side to a couple of polemic paragraphs from one of my favourite books, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Robert Tressell, writing in the early 1900’s suggested it would be better if we all did stop volunteering tomorrow in a section which touches on a number of issues relevant to the situation above:
Meanwhile, in spite of this and kindred (charitable) organisations, the condition of the under-paid poverty stricken and unemployed workers remained the same. Although the people who got the grocery and coal orders, the ‘Nourishment’, and the cast-off clothes and boots, were glad to have them, yet these things did far more harm than good. They humiliated, degraded and pauperized those who received them, and the existence of the societies prevented the problem being grappled with in a sane and practical manner. The people lacked the necessaries of life: necessaries of life are produced by work: these people were willing to work, but were prevented from doing so by the idiotic system of society which these ‘charitable’ people are determined to do their best to perpetuate.
If the people who expect to be praised and glorified for being charitable were never to give another farthing it would be far better for the industrious poor, because then the community as a whole would be compelled to deal with the absurd and unnecessary state of affairs that exists today – millions of people living and dying in wretchedness and poverty in an age when science and machinery have made it possible to produce such an abundance of everything that everyone might enjoy plenty and comfort. If it were not for all this so called charity the starving unemployed men all over the country would demand to be allowed to work and produce the things they are perishing for want of, instead of being – as they are now – content to wear their masters’ cast-off clothing and to eat the crumbs that fall from his table’ (my emphases)
It is, of course, very obvious that the state can afford to provide funding for these families. Central government can also afford not to cut funding to local authorities. Local authorities can also afford not to cut their grant to charities by 10%. The fact is they choose not to do these things, choosing instead to spend money on other things or choosing not to increase the amount of money at their disposal, leaving Jeremy and his staff with little choice but to dip into their own pockets. John Veit-Wilson, in his ‘Horses for Discourses’ paper makes this point better than anyone:
Ensuring that all the members of society, residents in or citizens of a nation state, have enough money is a clear role which governments can adopt or reject, but they cannot deny they have the ultimate power over net income distribution.
I don’t necessarily agree with Tressell’s proposal or his representation of charitable organisations (which were very different when he was writing), but I do agree with his analysis of the system of society. How can we call ourselves civilized when we deliberately and knowingly let families live without, as Tressell puts it, ‘the necessaries of life’ when the world has never been richer? At what point will we stop and realise that we have accumulated enough ‘stuff’ and wealth’ and sit down and work out how to divide it up better?
Thoughts, as ever, are welcome……
ps – in the interest of full disclosure, I’m running the Great North Run this year and am raising money for Children North East. Feel free to donate here