Posts tagged ‘big society’

Charity begins at…? Part 3

Back in December 2010 I was somewhat scathing about the Government’s Green Paper on ‘Giving’ so seeing that the White Paper has now been published I thought I’d cast my eye over it and see what – if anything – has changed in the intervening 21 weeks and 5 days.

The document opens with the two ministers in charge of the ‘Big Society’ initiative – Francis Maude and Nick Hurd – saying that the British give more than £10bn (or approximately £160 a person) each year to charities. I shall, for the moment, assume that they mean voluntary donations and that said amount doesn’t include all the money given to fake charities by the taxpayer involuntarily.

If the public give so much to charity on an annual basis, then you might be forgiven for wondering why exactly the government feels the need get itself involved. Don’t worry you aren’t alone as your host is wondering exactly the same thing. Our ministers, without a sense of irony, attempt to explain:

Despite a long history of government interventions, the giving of both time and money has flat-lined, and some in the voluntary sector warn of decline. […] We believe we can help to change this. Our ambition is to stimulate a step change in giving. This is a long-term project which requires a new approach that learns lessons from the past. Government needs to work more closely with business and charities.

I suppose it is too much to hope, having spotted that previous government interventions haven’t apparently helped, that the option of less government intervention was even considered?


No, I didn’t think so either as it seems that they have come down on the side of yet more government intervention. And that is without mentioning the presence of phrase ‘learns lessons from the past’ – something that is enough to send shivers down the spine given how often its variant ‘lessons will be learnt’ crops up in the aftermath of reports into public sector foul-ups.

The ministers go on to state:

Together we have to make it easier and more compelling for people to give time and money and so make the change they want to see.

I wasn’t aware that it was difficult to give money to charity and would expect that any organisation worth their salt has already made it easy to donate by all possible means. I will however agree that the giving of one’s time is somewhat difficult and something that would generally appear to be the preserve of those who don’t (whatever the circumstances) have to spend the majority of the week trying to earn a crust.

But enough of the fluff. What has the paper actually got to say for itself?

The rational for this whole exercise is that it seems that levels of giving have flatlined in recent years. This is probably even true given the economic situation as those with common sense will reign in non-critical spending (and arguably charity falls under this heading) until such time as they feel more able to donate.

However in order to make it easier for us to give of our time and money the following items, many of which build upon things talked about in the consultation paper, are mentioned. I have broken the list up in to two groupings for the sake of convenience.


Cash Point Giving
From 2012 LINK cash machines will offer users the option to donate when they are withdrawing money. Rather than interfere with the withdrawal process, it will be offered as another menu item alongside the usual ones of cash, balance etc. Whilst this sounds like an unobtrusive and thus perfectly reasonable approach I am concerned however that the list of charities to which one may donate will be down to the operator of the individual cash points. Call me cynical but I foresee howling from smaller organisations if they aren’t on the list or, are on the list but no-one knows who they are resulting in money going to the recognisable name instead.

‘Round Pound’
Someone has taken the old adage of ‘looking after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’ and translated that into a shiny new way of fleecing the punter. The paper highlights two schemes that are already in existence:

  • The Pennies Foundation in whereby “three-quarters of funds raised by this initiative are directed to a charity or charities chosen by the retailer, and the rest is distributed to ten other ‘UK people charities’ representing popular causes”.
  • Give Change, Make Change where the money is evenly split between British Red Cross, Great Ormond Street Hospital, WWF and Cancer Research UK. Hum, I think we can all play spot the fake charity there.

What you apparently can’t do with any of these schemes however is give solely to a charity of your choice.

Mobile Giving
Companies such as Vodafone, Orange and Blackberry have come up with some practical ways it seems to give time and/or money via the mobile.

  • Vodafone has teamed up with JustGiving to ‘allows charities and individuals to raise money using text messages in a way that is free to set up and run with all funds raised going to charity’.
  • Orange have developed an app that allows people to be charities’ eyes and ears, share ideas, take part in research or use their skills for the charity.
  • Via Blackberry Messenger a charity can create a unique PIN number to identify themselves within BBM. Users can then connect with that organisation via BBM and carry out a variety of tasks.

On the surface all of those sound quite workable and, importantly, allow the individual to pick the charity rather than having them suffer a predetermined list drawn up by others.

One item in the budget that I appear to have missed is that from the start of the 2012/13 tax year, if more than 10% of an estate (excluding exemptions, over the threshold etc) is left to charity than the IHT will be reduced on that estate to 36% from 40%. That seems to me to be more of a flat out bribe than an incentive and I would hope that anyone who might pay IHT has already put serious thought into proper planning in order to avoid it.

Also, the UK Government is looking into accepting donations of works of art and items of historical interest in returns for IHT reductions. Is it just me or does that sound awfully like a protection racket?

Philanthropy advice
This is something that makes a modicum of sense as those who wish to give substantial sums may not necessarily know to whom to give to or what the money could be spent on so may well appreciate it. As someone who would, if they had the money, be a philanthropist such a thing would be of interest. I’m not sure however that it needs £700,000 of taxpayers money spent on it.


Community Organisers
In principle the idea of bring local people and organisations together so that they might share volunteers, facilities sounds like a good one. The downside though is that I seem to recall that the current US president was one…

To support them the Community Organisers will have access to an £80m Community First fund. Of this £30m of this will be set aside to match funds raised to support community-led projects in ‘targeted neighbourhoods of England with low social capital and significant deprivation’. It doesn’t say what neighbourhoods it has in mind though or how it will decide which projects are worthy. The remaining £50m will be an ‘Endowment Match Challenge available throughout England, with a clear priority to build local endowments through philanthropic donations’. Again pushing the philanthropic angle (this time after you have already gone to meet St. Peter) and, oddly, I see no mention of the other three countries in the Union.

The paper recognises that stupidity such as red tape and CRB checks often hinder giving and says that the government is promising to reduce such obstacles. Hopefully the cuts to the red tape will prove to be more than just hot air and the proposed CRB reforms (which are part of the almost forgotten about Freedom Bill) will come to pass. Also mentioned is what is termed ‘Citizen-led self-regulation’ – basically a ‘rate your volunteer’ thing in the same way as people can leave feedback on hotels, restaurants etc so will no doubt suffer all the potential problems as they do.

Giving Summit
The summit is a new initiative announced in the paper and will be held in the autumn. The idea is that:

This will be a platform for ideas generation, networking and decision-making, bringing together leaders and innovators from business, social enterprises, charities, community groups, academia and government.

Because apparently these groups don’t interact with one another. And there was me thinking that leading members of charities would be doing their level best to attempt to woo business into giving them money. Isn’t that what charity fundraisers and ‘networking’ are all about?

No idea is, it seems, complete without getting children involved and this is no different – working, as it does, on the theory of getting them while they are young. A major plank of this is the ‘National Citizen Service’ or NCS – a name which can no doubt be twisted in any number of ways depending upon one’s political learnings and knowledge of history.

From reading though how it is described in the paper, the NCS comes across as a watered down version of the Duke of Edinburgh Award which somewhat makes me feel that the government is once again taking something that works and produce its own version rather than just leaving well alone.

Leading from the front
Just so us proles don’t feel left out, Ministers have pledged (and we all know that they keep those) that they will each undertake the One Day Challenge – ‘a voluntary commitment to give one day of their time over the course of a year to a charity or community group of their choice’ – and are hoping to persuade civil servants to also volunteer. Indeed, it seems that a number of government departments already offer their staff the opportunity to use at least one day of special leave to volunteer. What ‘special leave’ is I have no idea but I’m guessing it is on top of the regular holiday leave and the two weeks or so paid sick leave that seems to be spent on another foreign holiday… I suppose I shouldn’t really complain: the more time they aren’t at the desks, the less time they will actively be sending screwing the rest of us over!

I shouldn’t be completely cynical however. In a move that makes quite a lot of sense, the government is also allowing charities and volunteer groups to make use of parts of its buildings out of hours. This, I feel, is something that should be actively pursued at the local level as well. Who knows, it might even help the local library – a place we keep being told is in danger of becoming extinct. Throw in schools and there is a lot space there which is empty for a awful lot of time each year.

Celebrating Giving
And finally, for those who do give of their time and money, the government is considering handing out some form of award in recognition of this. Personally I thought we already had this covered with the existing awards system so I’m not entirely sure why we need some more.


I’m not, in the end, completely anti the whole paper as I thought I might be. Don’t get me wrong though. It isn’t perfect by any means but I feel it could have been an awful lot worse.

Unsurprisingly the more viable ideas seem to come from the private sector working in conjunction with the voluntary one whilst the objectionable bits – the NCS, the ‘Giving’ Summit and the money to be spent on the philanthropy advice service – are all government sponsored and will be run using taxpayer cash, providing little that either doesn’t all ready exist or is not needed,

Getting the public to be more charitable, self-sufficient and providing nonessential services locally to those in need is indeed a very laudable aim although I fear it will take more than just nice words and fancy ideas to stop the State thinking of itself as Pater and Mater to us all and for those who have fed deeply on the State teat to wean themselves off of it. The long term viability of any of the schemes, tax payer funded or not, is as yet unknown. They could be roaring successes but if they aren’t then what will happen? Will the government take the hit of seeing them close or will it throw other people’s money at the situation in a vain attempt to save face?

I’m all for cutting red tape and any other nonsense that stops people being able to give of their time freely but if the government really wanted to allow me to be able to donate more to charity then it should ease my (and everyone else’s) tax burden thus freeing up money which could be stuck in the collection tin.

A rose by any other name…

Amongst the many reasons to detest our former governing party was their propensity to tell people what they should be eating, drinking, thinking and doing. Their exit was greeted with a sigh of relief and the thought that such Nannying tendencies would be a thing of the past. Those of us who thought that (and I have to include myself in this) were wrong. Nanny is still there but has been renamed. Rather than hectoring us, our new government wishes to ‘nudge’ us.

Meet Richard Thaler from the University of Chicago, co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness and an economist who, as a leading exponent of ‘nudge theory’ has been advising David Cameron and his Orwellian sounding ‘Behavioural Insight Team’.

Nudge theory is described as being ‘libertarian paternalism’ and is, according to Wikipedia, about

help[ing] you make the choices you would make for yourself — if only you had the strength of will as well as the sharpness of mind. But unlike ‘hard’ paternalists, who ban some things and mandate others, the softer kind aims only to skew your decisions, without infringing greatly on your freedom of choice.

Well, they have the paternalism bit right, that’s for sure. All they have described is the process by which parents (should) raise their children without mentioning the inevitable discipline that is required when the boundaries are pushed too far.

One problem though – people who we legally consider to be adults are not children and thus should not be treated as such. Any attempt to skew my decisions towards something I don’t want to do is infringing on my freedom of choice. If I want to buy a round, eat food that isn’t health, donate my organs, give to charity or smoke I’ll bloody well do so because I want to – not because a politician such as Oliver Letwin has decreed that he would like to see me doing so.

This is not Libertarianism and can’t be. Libertarianism allows people to make their own choices (so long as they do not mean violence to another) and accepts that this will result in some mistakes being made. This is normal behaviour and is part of the how humans have learnt over the last x million years. You can advise that something that it is not a good idea but you can’t in anyway force them not to do it by removing that option.

Paternalism is control by another name. It is about reducing the level of choice available to someone simply because a busy body who thinks they know best has decided that some choices are ‘bad choices’ and that they should therefore be taken away.

The new government may have whitewashed Nanny and given her a new name but do not be fooled. She is still there, in the background, determined to interfere with and control the population and she must be resisted at all cost.

Charity begins at…? Part 1

We all know that Christmas is traditionally the season of giving, even if it is only presents to loved ones. The problem is that it would appear that the Government also knows this and has, via Francis Maude and Anne Milton, floated ideas to do what it does best: give away what belongs to other people.

For the sake of length I’ll address these two separate but related issues in two posts beginning with Francis Maude.

On the Wednesday just gone a Green Paper published on behalf of Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, proposed “a new role for government as a facilitator of giving, making it easier for philanthropists, volunteers and charities to form partnerships”. Something tells me that those charities which are still charities (and not simply an extension of the state) don’t really need the dead hand of central government adding an extra layer of management and complexity to their organisations.

The first part of the paper talks about how we can be encouraged to part with our time and money:

Business can offer valuable support by, for example, encouraging employees to give time and money, introducing payroll giving, making company resources available to community groups, and helping employees learn how to get involved in social action.

Oh great, yet more potential for top slicing my salary. What if I don’t want to give that month? Or if I want to give money to a different cause? Can’t imagine that HR of a small, let alone a large, company will be to happy keeping track of what and how much is supposed to be going to whom across every employee on a monthly basis. This will quickly get boiled down to something to make their lives easier: a fixed percentage to one of a small number of organisations on for a fixed period (say 6 or 12 months) with no way to opt out until that period is over. Thanks, but no thanks. If I want to donate it’ll be from my own pocket as and when I want to and to whomever I wish.

The Pennies Foundation has developed marginal giving technology that allows customers to ’round up the pound’ and so give small amounts every time they make a payment with a debit or credit card.

Are sales assistants going to be trained to ask you to do this in the same way they ask about your store card? This will result in the length of time it takes to extract money from the customer increasing, more staff being required to maintain throughput and thus fixed costs go up. Which charity is the money going to go to? Do we get to chose and let our bank know or is it going to be the charity that the business you are patronising chooses? If the latter then stores will have to let their customers know and staff will no doubt be asked at the checkout – this slowing things down further.

The Colombian system of ATM giving allows customers to make a donation every time they withdraw money.

Yet another screen to read when withdrawing money? All people want to do is get their hard earned cash, not be made to feel guilty for hitting the ‘No’ button. And the same problem as described above applies.

Online donation agencies like justgiving and virginmoneygiving have made it easier both for people to raise money and for people to give.

Applications and websites, such as the forthcoming Givey, allow donors to give time or money while they’re on the move using mobile phones or portable computers.

Internet platforms like match organisations with people who want to ‘micro-volunteer’ or donate short periods of time.

All of these have something thing in common – they were developed without interference from government. It is business and charities adapting to the changing environment around them and simply getting on with things without needing Nanny to tell them how. The later however is a example of a nice idea not initially working in the market place, an ensuing spat between creator and money men over ownership and resurrection before being given taxpayers money and eventually completely selling out to the public sector.

And all that is just for those who have money, no matter how little. The paper does however suggest offering tax relief to those who do decide to give money. If you are too young to have money though, fear not, you will targeted in other ways:

National Citizen Service will open up a host of new opportunities for 16 year-olds to give time. It will play an important role both in building social cohesion by creating new connections between young people, and in demonstrating the benefits of social action to them.

Or they could go out and get a (Saturday) job like my generation and those before mine did. If a 16 year-old wants to volunteer they will but having some well meaning adult telling them to do so will do down like a lead balloon at an age where children barely listen to their own parents.

They are also looking to “fund a programme for younger school children to find out about giving and establish a social norm at an early stage of life”. Or, in other words, getting them whilst they are too young to know any better.

Even death should not be a reason not to give. One of the many quotes scattered amongst the document informs us that only 9% of the total value of legacies goes to charity, the rest being spread amongst family and friends. Quelle horreur! I take it that the people behind this have never seen the result of leaving one’s entire estate to charity? Locusts are known to leave more behind than a charity performing a house clearance. Be sensible, suggest a collection be taken up on behalf of your favourite charity instead of flowers and make sure that money is given to the local branch rather than the central hub.

Fresh from telling us how to, the paper moves on to telling us where we can give to and here, once again, we find that the state already has its tentacles buried inside the so-called ‘third-sector’ having taken the previously independent UK Community Foundations, brought them into Orwellian sounding ‘Office of the Third Sector’ and supplied them with a generous amount of taxpayer money (£130 million). This is as well as having them involved in distributing money collected via the National Lottery.

Not yet content, we are informed that starting in Match 2011, the taxpayer will be “investing in the front line Volunteer Infrastructure Programme in order to provide the public with information on local volunteering opportunities and to provide support to organisations that manage volunteers”. Why pray tell? Has it been impossible up to now for individuals to find causes they they wish to assist? Has every organisation been incompetently run?

No proposal would, of course, be down with the kids unless it could be linked to the media, both new and old. Reflecting the current way of the world Facebook and Twitter get an obligatory mention as does C4s Secret Millionaire and the charity marathons hosted by our state media machine.

To be fair it does say that not all giving should not be selfless however and that large donations, be it in time or money, should be recognised. I’m not sure though that ideas such as

thank you letters from Ministers; a national day to celebrate donors; a televised weekly ‘thank you’ to national lottery winners who have donated;

will induce anything other than mass vomiting however.

Never fear though, the government is leading by example…

Government has the opportunity to encourage its employees to lead by example, and in so doing help build new social norms. Plans are already underway to develop a ‘civic service’, whereby civil servants are encouraged to contribute to their communities.

What joy, more attempts by government to produce the ideal prole but this time they are using peer pressure to back up their desires. It isn’t content to stick with just encouraging those on the payroll to give of their time though:

For instance, the Department of Health provided £5,000 to Southwark Voluntary Action (the Council for Voluntary Service local to one of the Department’s office buildings) to compile a directory of local community venues that could be used for external meetings and events. This has multiple benefits of increasing links with local community groups, reducing public spend on venue hire and pumping more public money into the local community.

Yep, it is that old favourite of using your money as well on something that should be done by the market… and if it isn’t done by the market then the need for it doesn’t exist or the savings in time and money are insignificant.

Early on, the paper tells us that the main lesson that government can draw from the past is to acknowledge its limits. A pity then that it decided to get involved as it seems to ignore that salutatory point as the paper goes on and in the end it just seems like the paper is all about the government actions in effectively nationalising the entire charitable sector – for our own good. Given the success of the state in other fields such a move would spell disaster.

Disclaimer: The author donates money to two charities – the RNLI and the Royal British Legion. She would consider giving her time to local organisations but doesn’t have any spare Monday to Friday and likes to spend the weekend doing her own thing. You can, if you so wish, consider the Sunday afternoons spent scoring for a local cricket club, producing the statistics and maintaining their website – all without any pay (unless you count beer) – as giving time to charity.