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Place Hope in Charity

January 31, 2012

aartwork by Brad Tuttle

dev·il’s advocate (dᵉv’ᵊlz) n. One who argues against a cause or position, not as a committed opponent but simply for the sake of argument or to determine the validity of the cause or position.

devilsaardvark (a:d’va:k’) n. As devil’s advocate, only with a much larger nose.

Oh dear! Oh dearie, dearie me! She’s at it again! I suppose you have to give her credit for being entertaining though. Who? Why, everybody’s favourite MP for Mid Bedfordshire, Nadine Dorries. Who else?! (see also ‘S is for Relationships’)

Yesterday’s Twitter feed from @NadineDorriesMP read, “Just visited fantastic Food Bank in Milton Keynes supplied by local churches from across Beds. No better example of the #bigsocietyinaction“.

Ms Dorries is right. The Milton Keynes Food Bank ( http://www.mkfoodbank.org.uk/ ) does some extraordinary work in the community for individuals and families who are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with redundancy, bereavement, illness – people who are in, “Genuine crisis.” And, indeed, church organisations from across the Mid Bedfordshire constituency are amongst those that donate. But is it truly is the best example of the Big Society in action? Well, that depends on what your idea of a Big Society is.

The notion of a ‘Big Society’, to me at least, sounds almost like a socialist ideal. Apologies for the use of the ‘S’ word there, but it does evoke a Marxist image of communities taking charge and responsibility for the affairs of the areas in which they live. Indeed, if you read the Department for Communities and Local Government website ( http://www.communities.gov.uk/communities/bigsociety/ ), you will find the following definition – “The Big Society is the Government’s vision of a society where individuals and communities have more power and responsibility, and use it to create better neighbourhoods and local services.” All of which sounds hunky dory, but if a Food Bank distributing to increasing numbers of vulnerable people is the aspiration, then the Big Society is not a utopia that I wish to be a part of.

Let me ask this. Does the idea of charity hand outs to the poorest and neediest members of society not conjure images of a Dickensian/Victorian England? We are in the third millennium with all of the trappings that being one of the richest nations on earth has at its disposal and yet we have to rely on handouts? Is the Big Society’s goal to reintroduce workhouses for the increasing numbers of unemployed?

Nadine (face warm and glowing with fake sincerity and smugness): Here, young scamp, take this crust of bread and tin of baked beans as a gift from the Big Society.

Urchin (face sooty and drawn): Gawd bless ya, m’lady. I don’t know where I’d be without the Big Society. Me ma and pa is gawn and we ‘ad to eat the cat last month cos we was so ‘ungery we was. It was the last food me and me eight brothers and sisters ‘ad. Please an’ beggin’ yer pardon, but I don’t suppose as you’ve got a tin opener as yer?

Saint Nadine of Westoning (wiping mascara from eye and smiling to camera): What jolly japes eh, you young rapscallion! Now run along, that’s it… back to work…

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t have an issue with the charity itself. Or any other for that matter. Take Help for Heroes for example. Now here’s an example of a charity that fulfils an absolutely vital role for servicemen and women and their families. Personally, I couldn’t give them enough praise or credence for the work they carry out. The question I find myself asking again and again though is this. Why in the name of Mugabe’s moustache isn’t the state providing enough adequate support for our wounded servicemen and women? After all, it was the state that sent them out to fight in the first place, most probably ill-equipped and under resourced. When you take on a task, you see it through to the end. The MoD must have expected non-fatal casualties before they set off for Iraq and Afghanistan, so is anyone going to tell me that, once wounded, forces personnel are obsolete – no longer budgeted for? The fact that we have to rely on charities like H4H is nothing short of a disgrace. It is a stealth tax. It amounts to the government saying, “Ok, we know you’re not going to put your hand in your pocket to buy a missile or a tank, so we’ll do that bit. You can just pick up the tab for the soldiers that come home with the odd limb missing.”

It’s one thing to have Red Nose Day and Sport Relief etc. to raise money for worthy causes. If you’re one of those that donates £3 a month to help protect the Guatemalan Tree Newt from extinction, then cool. And the gang. But if you’re being asked to dig deep for a new cancer ward for your local hospital, library for your local primary school, or a functioning wheelchair for an IED victim, yes, give if you want to (and I’m sure most of us on some level want to), but ask yourself, isn’t this what I pay my taxes for anyway? The argument might come back that, “There just isn’t enough money to go around,” but that is simply not true. If you look at how much this country leaks through tax evasion by the super-rich… Which is why the Big Society is nothing more than a scam designed to make us believe that we do actually live in a democracy.

It is reassuring that, in times of national austerity, The Big Society is managing to do some good. And by that I mean the announcement this week that RBS Chief Exec Stephen Hester has waived his £963,000 bonus ahead of reports that MPs were going to vote against it anyway in the wake of growing public indignation. Still, the cynic in me has to question what is going to happen to that money now. Is it simply going to be re-invested within the publicly-owned bank for the benefit of us all? The cynic in me doubts that very much.

If you’re on Twitter, have a follow of @NadineDorriesMP. You might find it informative. You might find it entertaining. You might find that you need to have your phone or computer insured against damage through sudden impact with a hard surface.

And remember, we’re all in this together!

@devilsaardvark

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