“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist”. This quote is attributed to both Clement Atlee, in 1956, and Archbishop Camara in Brazil in the 1980’s. It is as relevant today as it has ever been.
Now, much of my working life has been in the voluntary sector, mainly with small, practical charities that helped others to help themselves. Indeed, my one, unsuccessful, directorship was in a post that was largely to do with alleviating problems. Don’t get me wrong, the organisation did a good job for people in the direst need. It wasn’t, however, for me and I guess I knew from early on that my heart wasn’t in it. As a result, after 18 months, my contract was terminated. It was to be another eight months before I was back running the sort of charity I believed in and, when I did, both the organisation and I flourished. So you might say that it was good for both of us. I guess, in fact, that that’s why I’ve always felt at home in the voluntary sector or, at least, the part of it that I know. I like its ethos, its camaraderie and the fact that the people I met all took great satisfaction in helping others to change their lives, often in ways that their own had changed. Without being too evangelical about it, we helped to sow the seeds for the next generation.
Conversely, however, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the whole concept of charity and philanthropy. Especially when I read that those on lower incomes tend to give, proportionately, more to charitable causes than those with greater wealth. As I am with the thought that some private schools have charitable status. Once again, it seems that those with wealth contribute to organisations that already have wealth; probably their own, in fact.
This different world was highlighted to me this week when Gaynor and I watched a programme about antiques (as we are prone to do). It featured an auction house and people who seemed to have more money than sense. Certainly they seemed very different to the people I mix with. My thoughts were that, from the characteristics they displayed, alleviating poverty seemed unlikely to feature highly on their agenda. So, they play with their toys while government cuts become deeper. It is now only seven weeks since the election and its promises and, suddenly, there isn’t enough money to pay for the new upgrades to the railways. As a result, one of the major engines for the new “Northern Powerhouse” has already been shunted into the sidings.
Dig it deep, friends. There are only another four years and ten and a half months to go and alleviating poverty, let alone preventing it, isn’t even on the agenda.