Charities are just another unequal tax

When I discovered that last night’s ‘Children in Need’ television programme had been going for forty years it led me to think about charity. This is really a version of the very Victorian concept of ‘the poor will always be with us’ – because after four decades we still have children in need.

So foggy and deluded is our understanding of a government’s purpose that most of us consider a television programme to raise money for children in need is a quite normal, annual event. And seem oblivious to the fact that we have elected a government whose policies mean that more children are in need than ever before.

It is remarkable that we are misled into believing that somehow government is not a common endeavour in order to benefit us all and we are content to have to find resources separate from that government, which actually creates the currency that we need.

Take the RNLI (which, having lived for most of my my life on or near, the coast I’ve long supported). The RNLI gets no government money. In contrast at least in France, Sauvetage en Mer gets 35% of their funding from the French government – and they actually have a lot less coast than Britain.

Both organisations save lives so you might have thought that they go to the heart of what democratic government is about. But no, for the RNLI people of goodwill quite separate from government itself are required to finance life saving. There could be no clearer indication that government purpose and money creation are misunderstood. On government’s part I fear it is another instance of neoliberal ‘learned helplessness’.

For if Pudsey the bear wants to step in to fight a few societal ills that’s fine. Yet if the state gets involved everyone screams hyperinflation – and says that there is no money.

Further, as the poor are far closer to hard times than the rich, they tend to give a greater percentage of their income to charity than the rich, That is why charitable giving is a voluntary tax which promotes greater inequality.

When charities are so pervasive we need to pose the question what on earth are governments for? Is that pervasiveness not an indication of government failure?

Modern governments have, I suggest, three core purposes: Defence, Justice and Currency Issuance. We shouldn’t be setting up a new charity every time there is a new ill, we should rather be telling government to allocate resources towards it, and get the state to use what Sunak calls – probably in an unguarded moment – its “overwhelming might.”


  1. Graham -

    Indeed charity, like the lottery, is a voluntary tax. There are many worthy charities which the government should support, and several which give the word “charity” a bad name, such as private schools.

    Earlier this year there were many outstanding efforts by individuals to raise money for the NHS, money which could have and should have been provided by the government, instead of which the NHS has been starved of funds by the Tories. If we need charity it should be the icing on the cake not rescuing people in dire need because of government failure to care for all citizens.

    Another issue is the way obscenely wealthy billionaires turn to philanthropy and then control and direct the way their billions is spent.

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