Opinion: Hating the state can be bad for charities

Is it cramped in here, or is it the elephant in the room we don't discuss? You know, the one dividing the charity world in its views on the role of the state.

Nick Cater
Nick Cater

This is not just about irritation at contract cons or here-today, gone-tomorrow politicians, but the seething dislike some have for national government, local councils, civil servants and public ownership. Otherwise normal folk start frothing at the mouth over, say, councils that are reluctant to give away public assets to charities, or trade unions that are dubious about volunteers undermining jobs. 

A factor in this is the New Labour political prism, refracting wealth and fame as evidence of virtue while everyone, from hard-working public servants to the poor and sick, the old and disabled, is seen as a problem.

"No ifs or buts" run the adverts encouraging us to inform on benefit-cheating friends and family. I've not noticed similar campaigns against tax dodgers. Yet for a decade the wealth gap has gaped, as private equity pirates face only 5 per cent tax, figure-fiddling firms pay even less and the 'non-domiciled' ploy allows millionaires a tax break.

A few philanthropic crumbs may drop from the tables of the guilty, but the billions upon billions that could be the future health-welfare-education foundations for far more effective charity action will never be recovered.

State-hate is self-defeating for charities. Far from offering any realistic alternative to the work of national or local government, or for that matter private enterprise, they simply do not have the capital, infrastructure, political power or scale to do more than work at the margins. Nor should they wish to.

Their hope should be for a vigorous, responsive, well-funded public sector that will not only directly meet many more needs, but will also be willing to both work in partnership with charities and invest in universalising their ideas. That could range from creating a nationwide network of air ambulances or expanding international aid to substantially increasing support for sport, the arts, heritage and the environment, and helping charities become far more effective agents of change.

To do that, government needs to use the powers it has to catch the tax-dodge rats, close down low-rate loopholes, end abuse by 'non-doms' and do the one thing charities can never do but should all back to the hilt: tax the rich to ensure they pay their fair share.

- Nick Cater is a consultant, speaker and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk  

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