OPINION: Simple ideas can be the best

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

Sometimes you come across a good idea that is so simple that you wonder why on earth someone hasn't thought of it before. And when you think of the many hours spent in strategy meetings, it is somewhat humbling to realise that some of the best ideas are dreamt up in the bath or at the bus stop.

The StreetSmart initiative falls into this "simple yet brilliant" category.

The scheme works like this. In the run-up to Christmas, when overeating can become a common occurrence, restaurants are encouraged to invite customers to add £1 to their bill per table. The money is then given to local homelessness charities.

The scheme has many advantages as the administration costs are minimal, there is no fear of duplicating existing services and it encourages corporate social responsibility in the restaurant trade. Customers are reminded, at a time of great overindulgence, of the plight of others less fortunate than themselves living in their own neighbourhood.

It is a classic example of straightforward redistribution: those who can afford to contribute benefit those who can not. Last year the scheme raised a quarter of a million pounds. Now operating across 11 cities, and with more than 200 restaurants taking part, StreetSmart expects to raise even more money for homelessness charities this Christmas.

At the risk of taking a good idea and replicating it to the point of worthlessness (witness the demise of ribbon appeals), there must be other ways in which our overindulgence during this season could be channelled to better use. The gross consumerism of the festive season is overwhelming.

Those who can afford to indulge battle with themselves over the morality of it all. Many seek solace in purchasing cards and presents from charity catalogues, knowing that a percentage is going to a charitable cause.

So I hope someone is already thinking of taking the StreetSmart idea a bit further. I, for one, would be willing to contribute a little extra to the cost of buying my turkey with all the trimmings.

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