Empty ethics: the dangers of a charity sector liberated from charity

A recent partner of charities who may not share a charity ethos.

Charities using coerced labour from workfare programs smells very off to the millions of people who see those programs as a poisonous attack on proper wages, on job creation, and on the right to eat whether you are working or not. These are charities, you hear people saying. Aren’t they supposed to be the good guys?

We could be charitable to the charities and assume they were being naive, thinking they would receive only genuine volunteers. In that case, they should relieve themselves of their naivety forthwith by reading the Boycott Workfare site and the personal testimonies of people coerced into work (for around £2 per hour) that can be found across the internet. They should also, perhaps, relieve themselves of their naivety about this government’s intentions. It fully intends to lower the cost of labour (i.e. make most of us poorer) for the sake of greater profits and anyone engaging with the government should understand this and ensure they are not playing a part in it. As an aside, workfare doesn’t work, if the intention is to get people into work. But the government is expanding the program. It’s almost like the main goal really is to provide cheap labour isn’t it?

But I think the issue is more than mere naivety. The charity sector has undergone two changes in recent years and both must have seemed like an improvement to the charities. One change was that with the growth of the EU, the arrival of the National Lottery and the (late) Office of the Third Sector, there has been more funding available from official sources. This has some apparently good effects but it also means – inevitably these days – the imposition of targets and monitoring. It is easy to mistake success against targets for success in making people’s lives better, particularly once your job depends on meeting the targets. It is easy too to start shifting your goals in response to the money.

The second change is the increased numbers of senior managers moving across, sometimes temporarily, from the private sector. This brings management ‘expertise’ into the charity sector but this is not a neutral expertise. Business-oriented managers are more likely to pursue growth for the sake of growth (since growth is all in the private sector) and they too are fond of targets. They are also more likely to make ‘rational’ economic decisions, like the alcohol dependency charity that takes money from alcohol companies. ‘We can make bad money good,’ the argument goes, blithely ignoring why the alcohol company needs them as a fig-leaf. The managerialism of big business frees those businesses from all responsibility to people – except the people they choose to please for sound business reasons. Is business management liberating charities from the need to show basic charity to people beyond their area of work?

The charities would claim, no doubt, that they have not lost their core ethics. And perhaps they haven’t. But many have lost their peripheral ethics, their all-round view. If you stick to a few ethical rules but decide to blind yourself to anything outside that then your ethics are empty. Charities should think hard about the damage this loss of a broader ethics could do to their reputation. They should think about the dynamics they are getting involved with when they agree to provide outsourced services for government, or when they partner with outsourcing corporations with goals very different to their own. They should think about more than just growth or targets. When someone offers them free labour from a pool of often-desperate people, they should perhaps take a moment to think about what they are getting involved in.

Meanwhile the rest of us should all think harder about who we give to. We now face a far worse prospect than targets-obsessed charities slipping into being feel-good employment schemes for middle class professionals. Some of them are in danger of becoming feel-bad unemployment schemes for us all.

Simple things made complex: things that don’t work

This is a series of posts in which I talk about simple things but extend my commentary on the simple things to several paragraphs, thus making them more complex.

It seems clear, I think, to most people, that when a thing does not work, it is not working. If your motorised trebuchet does not work then it is failing to throw rocks at the Palace of Westminster and we can all agree that it is not working as a motorised trebuchet should.

When people say that capitalism is not working – and I have heard various people say just this lately – the point tends to be more controversial. The reasons why it is controversial (besides the definition of capitalism) are interesting. Firstly, let’s complicate this further, since that is the task of these posts.

In my experience people tend to mean two quite different and separate things when they say ‘capitalism isn’t working’. They either mean (a) It isn’t working as it should right now or (b) It has never worked. The former gets more sympathy at the moment, because a lot of people in the UK are getting poorer right now.

So this statement (a) is clearly true on one level, in that we experience the lowered standard of living brought about, apparently, by some of the lynchpins of the capitalist system. But the implication of it is that the system can be fixed.

But let me put a third point of view. Let’s call it (c). This viewpoint says (c) capitalism is working just fine thanks, and we just have a few glitches to iron out. And here is the evidence for that point of view:

What this exposes for me is that the question of whether capitalism works is, unlike a motorised trebuchet, a matter of your point of view. That graph is from the US but last year in the UK wages for most people stayed flat or even fell, while CEOs picked up 30% pay rises – as they have been doing all through the credit crisis and recession (including the current recession they are pretending isn’t happening because certain growth figures don’t technically say it is yet). I also suspect that not shown on this graph is a 9% or so who have had rising incomes (though not as steep) either as owners of property and capital on a smaller scale or as high level managers of various types – managers and salesmen to those with the real money.

So now we see that statement (a) – capitalism isn’t working right now – is possibly largely from the point of view of people who have felt they have benefited from it in the past. Capitalism working ‘as it should’ means capitalism working for them.

Meanwhile statement (b) – capitalism has never worked – must come from another viewpoint once again. In my case it is usually from the viewpoint of the very large number of people in the world who live in poverty while we clearly have the technology and resources to prevent the situation. I feel a little bit unsympathetic to the people who claim (a), because they just got saddled with the kind of ‘austerity measures’ (corporate bonanza) that ‘we’ (our glorious leaders) used to force on poor countries. So now suddenly capitalism isn’t working. But there were other ways of looking at it all along, no?

Capitalism: not a motorised trebuchet.

Government Propaganda Announcement: On the uses of my taxes

**fizz, CRACKLE~~pfFT**

Please repeat after the neighbourhood megaphone:

MY taxes are not, I repeat NOT, to be used UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, for things from which I do not DIRECTLY BENEFIT. For instance if I do not go for walks in woods then MY MONEY must not be used to support the COMMUNISTS at the Forestry Commission and their RAMBLING ASSOCIATION RUNNING DOGS. I like concrete and tarmac and sometimes sandy beaches so FUCK FORESTS because I do not use them.

I do not benefit from the equipment given to disabled people because I AM NOT DISABLED. Do I look like a CRIPPLE to you? Then why are MY TAXES going to support them? Literally support them, I mean LITERALLY. What kind of messed up world is this?

And why are MY TAXES going to scrounging students who are the ones who benefit from their degree? THEY SHOULD PAY. I am perfectly happy with a society without university graduates so FUCK STUDENTS – I don’t owe them anything. What have former students ever done for me, eh? I said EH? Tell me THAT!

If I do not need to use needle exchanges, why would I need to fund them? I am not a JUNKIE. I do not want my taxes to go to JUNKIES. I want my taxes to go to things that I NEED, like bin collections. I want my BINS collected goddamn it!

And no I DON’T GIVE A FUCK that the binman gets minimum wage from the subcontractor because the local council was forced to outsource it by Westminster. And no I DON’T GIVE A FUCK that because he’s on minimum wage he can’t afford to pay for the basics of life, I SURE AS HELL am not going to pay for them through MY TAXES. Or for his WIFE who has to stay at home looking after the kids. And OF COURSE I don’t care that his oldest kid has Downs Syndrome. Do I have have Downs Syndrome? Do I look like a SPASTIC to you? No – then I’m not paying for his care. And no I DON’T GIVE A FUCK that the binman won’t have a pension, and I DON’T GIVE A FUCK, that when he’s sacked from his casual contract he won’t have benefits because I’M NOT ON BENEFITS SO WHY SHOULD I PAY? And no I DON’T GIVE A FUCK that he won’t get a pension, I just know that I’M not paying for HIS pension.

Just collect my bins and SHUT THE FUCK UP Mr Binman. For through the medium of government propaganda I channel George Osborne, David Cameron and Nick Clegg IN ONE BODY. Do you hear me? I RULE!

Please repeat this announcement three times before every meal and ten times before bed. Thank you. **fizz, CRACKLE~~pfFT**