OPINION: Hot Issue - Should the charity sector set up its own benevolent fund?

Benevolent funds perform a valuable role in helping people, usually in a certain trade or industry, who experience hardship due to things such as illness or accident. Usually, they are supported through payroll giving within their sector. However, there is currently no benevolent fund for voluntary-sector workers.

Chris Ball, voluntary-sector secretary, Amicus

NO

A benevolent fund for charity-sector workers? Who could oppose such a thing? Well actually ... Self-help and mutuality are fine of course, and heavens, there have been union benevolent funds and allowances since the Tolpuddle Martyrs. Charlie Chaplin's ticket to America was bought by a precursor of Amicus and the world has laughed at our expense ever since.

However, one has to ask why would such a thing be needed? Poverty pay, an absence of pensions and permanent health insurance schemes in voluntary organisations could make queuing up for hand-outs a way of life for some.

Having low paid clergy among Amicus members, ministers of religion often apply for benevolent grants to take their families on holiday, and other reasons of hardship.

But do they like it? Not really. It's all rather nauseating, cap doffing and deferential. I can tell you, feelings are hurt when they get turned down too. Getting decent pay and conditions as of right would be my priority, but I suppose I'll chip in if you ask me.

Margaret MacDonald, membership manager, the ME Association

YES

Most of us are so concerned about securing the futures of our organisations that we often fail to run the slide rule over our own health. Lifting my nose from the grindstone for one moment, I can see there is merit in setting up a benevolent fund for the charity sector. But I've no time to get involved. What if, through overwork, we fall prey to a long-term, chronic illness? Who will see us through the hard times while we struggle to recover and return to work if we don't have adequate insurance policies and pension entitlements? The prospect of ill-health forcing absence from work, with a huge drop in living standards and dependence on others, is bleak indeed.

We have models to turn to for advice when we're really down on our uppers - the hundreds of thousands of people in this country who would love to be able to work but cannot do so because of illness and disability. They can teach us a thing or two about survival and making do.

Peter Cardy, chief executive, Macmillan Cancer Relief

YES

Larger charities try to be good employers and protect their staff to reasonable standards when they are sick, injured or otherwise in adversity.

But many people work for years in small, underfunded voluntary bodies that have minimal protection for their staff and volunteers. Others choose a vocation that means they live close to benefit levels over many years and can't build up pensions, take out personal accident or ill-health insurance because their wages are too small. Some have found their little nest eggs gobbled up by pension scandals.

Every voluntary body should insure its unpaid volunteers against harm in the service of the organisation. But the benefits obtainable may be small - a few thousand pounds doesn't go far for someone disabled or off work for a long time, or for their dependents.

If it's right for charities to pay proper wages, it's reasonable for there to be pooled help available for people who serve others, if they, in turn, are in need.

Geoffrey Atkinson, OBE, chief executive, Ben-Motor and Allied Trades Benevolent Fund

YES

Unquestionably and urgently. Indeed, not to have done so before now may be quite irresponsible of us.

After 24 years at Ben, I recognise that we can never know when our families may be in need. Few of us in the charity sector can make good provision for unemployment, retirement or long-term illness, and if people from well paid jobs in industry can be driven to suicide because they cannot provide for their children, why do we think that it couldn't happen to us?

There would be complications in setting up a fund. For instance, who would qualify for its help when charity status covers such a wide range of organisations? Charities could contribute say 50p for every £10,000 they earn as motor industry companies do for Ben. Spread across the sector, this could grow to millions of pounds per annum. Payroll giving could be added to this since occupational benevolent funds are the most appropriate cause for this form of fundraising.

The result would be a very respectable nest egg with which to help our less fortunate colleagues and their dependents.

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