Britain in Need – The London Economic

By Nathan Lee, Politics Correspondent 

The BBC’s Children in Need appeal raised more than £32.6 million on Friday night shortly after a Poppy Appeal that is expected to raise more than £40 million. It makes you proud to be British, but ashamed that our charitable efforts are being used to mask shortcomings in our fiscal policy.

According to a survey by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), the UK is the fifth most charitable nation in the world. More than half (55 per cent) of the population donate to charitable causes in a typical month, giving an average of £10 per donor. Cass Business School found higher-income households are generally more likely to give to charity and to give more, with households in Northern Ireland and north west London – both areas with a strong religious tradition – found to be generous donors relative to their income.

But the UK, as well as being home to a remarkably generous population, is also home to a very unequal one. People within the top ten per cent of earners have net incomes that are almost ten times that of people in the bottom, and this income inequality has grown at an alarming rate over the past 30 years (Children in Need was founded in 1980). In the words of the Equality Trust, “there is a vast difference between the average income of the richest and the rest of the UK”, adding that we’re now one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

Our charitable generosity therefore highlights a perverse juxtaposition in that not only do we pay a wealth of taxes, but we’re also mopping up the shortcomings of our fiscal policy which is clearly not doing enough to help those who need it the most. In short, we’re propping up a defunct public sector on both accounts.

Poppy Appeal and Children in Need

The two charitable pushes of the last week do a particularly good job at highlighting this. Our Poppy Appeal on the centenary anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War is expected to raise more than £40 million for The Royal British Legion, which supports serving UK Armed Forces, veterans and their families. But if we can find enough money to support the armaments industry and send troops to fight needless wars, then surely there should be allowances for soldiers when they return home? Government figures show the cost of fighting and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan passed £20 billion in 2010, of that £18 billion was spent on military operations. Expenditure of that degree shouldn’t require charities to pick up the pieces.

Then there’s Children in Need, which sets out its vision of giving every child in the UK a safe, happy and secure childhood that allows them the chance to reach their potential. According to their website the charity exists “to change the lives of disadvantaged children and young people in the UK”, which is honourable, but also kind of sad. It’s sad that one of their main focuses is to help children in poverty and deprivation. That in a relitively wealthy country we have seen huge growth in the number of Food Banks being used. And it’s sad that there aren’t the provisions in place in this country to adequately take care of disabled young people.

Paying for a problem or funding a solution

This may sound like disillusioned socialism and there’s no doubt that charitable organisations will always have a role to play in British society, but there’s logic in the assertion that we could be doing a lot more as a country to address the root causes of these charitable efforts and others like them.

That our health care system leaves vulnerable children in the lurch and that we send soldiers to fight phony wars with no safety net when they return home highlights fiscal shortcomings that will never be properly addressed by these, albeit admirable, charitable events. If anything, we’re applying plasters where we need to properly treat the wound.

You can be charitable and chuck money at a problem or you can be logical and throw money at a solution. It’s a hard truth, but one that we Brits need to wise up to.

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