Today the Guardian reports that the government plans to allow people to donate to charities directly from cash machines, as part of a series of proposals to help define their ‘big society’ (amusingly, the Guardian style guide says that until the Tories adequately define their ‘big society’ concept – the concept upon which they claim they were elected – it must appear between inverted commas).
I’m completely opposed to the idea of a big society. For a start, I think that transferring state functions over to the voluntary sector will give charitable organisations too much influence, and those organisations are not accountable to the public. They also may not have to follow the same strict equality laws that a government department would. So for example if a community centre is run by a local church instead of the council, they might not want people of a certain sexual preference to be included, or the fact that it’s in a church might put a lot of non-religious people off. Once they have influence, are they likely to give it up? In addition, the voluntary sector will not ensure that those services are properly distributed, in fact I think those areas where people have more free time (ie the wealthier areas) will have more charitable organisations, and the poorer areas where the services are needed most will be neglected. In short, some things are the responsibility of the state.
That’s not all though, the majority of charities I know of also carry out duties that I consider the state’s responsibility. Take the NSPCC for example. They’ve been running an advertising campaign over Christmas to raise money so that they can help stop child abuse. They run a service called Childline which abused children can ring to ask for help. This is absolutely something that the government should be doing, something so important shouldn’t be left to a charitable organisation whose source of funding could go dry at any moment, and who do not answer to the public in any meaningful way.
There are other things that the state should be doing too. Every day we see charities looking for money to help people in Africa survive, or to tackle homelessness. Imagine how much more effectively those objectives could be achieved if they were done at the state level. As it is, charities do just enough that people think the system is working well, without actually solving the problem. They serve to appease the conscience of the privileged rather that to help those that need it in any effective way. It’s like giving an aspirin to someone with cancer.
So you can take your ‘big society’ and shove it up your arse. It’s hopelessly inadequate.