TV giving relieves symptoms, not causes

Wealth always attracts attention, but its owners are often reluctant to be noticed for fear we will concur with Honore de Balzac's contention that "behind every great fortune there is a crime". Thus a couple of recent television shows have been interesting simply for putting the rich under the spotlight.

Let's not dwell too long on ITV's bottom-feeding begging show Fortune: Million Pound Giveaway, in which various rich people willing to sit in the same room as disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer (assiduously rehabilitating himself) watch a stream of delightful or dubious supplicants abase themselves.

The idea is to test the concept of a deserving cause to destruction by seeing who and what can wangle the most wedge from the wealthy. This being telly, however, it cannot resist descending into a freak show of the needy and seedy, although I have to say that penury never looks so attractive as when it is compared with the overtanned arrogance of the cash-unstrapped.

Far more interesting was Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire series, in which the self-made monied went undercover, slumming it for a couple of weeks on sink estates up and down the country, trying to find individuals and organisations deserving of a few bob.

They found many people of honour, dedication, patience, pride and honesty struggling to survive in tough conditions, and - ignoring the need for agitation and action to transform lives - rewarded a few, or the charities or groups they ran, with chunky cheques. There seemed here a telling echo of the debate about whether charity fundraisers are an obstacle to effective fundraising when there are knowledgeable front-line programme officers of passion and commitment.

For it was noticeable that the millionaires-in-mufti looked not for need or explanations, let alone the kind of cost-benefit analysis supposedly essential for venture philanthropists, but sought out community change-makers - the individuals making a difference, often at high personal cost.

They never asked why our political and economic system allows these pits of poverty and exclusion to continue, or appreciated how hard it is to escape from multi-generational deprivation and despair. They lacked insight or analysis, and cash was their selective solution to symptoms, not causes.

Of course, charities have no such excuses. Anyway, surely Balzac was wrong; should it not be that behind all poverty there is a crime?

Nick Cater is a consultant and writer.

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