Book Review from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
Giving: How to Encourage Charities More. By Nicholas True. Centre for Policies Studies. £4.95.
Capitalism does not satisfy people's needs. The result is human suffering on a massive scale. This affects individuals and their families in many ways: starvation, disease and homelessness in many countries: in others malnutrition and bad housing are the commonest forms.
Characteristically there have been two approaches to such problems. One is by legislation. In Britain this led to the Welfare State, the NHS, and to local councils taking on legal responsibility for housing the homeless. The other approach is by voluntary efforts, through a host of charitable institutions and associations. During recent years the size of this operation—in terms of receipts from covenants, legacies and other giving—has appeared to grow steadily. The "top 200" charities received over £900,000,000 in 1987-88. over three times what they received in 1979.
New charities are being registered all the time. By 1989 there were almost 165,000 registered charities, and it is estimated that in total there may be 275,000. Mostly they attempt to compensate for the awful conditions created by an economic system whose priority is not the satisfaction of people's needs. This results in poverty and its associated evils—malnutrition, ill-health and bad housing. In addition, production for profit pollutes the air we breathe, the water we drink, and foodstuff on sale in the supermarket. Nicholas True does not mention these simple and obvious points.
Charities do not tackle the cause of such problems. Worse, the existence of charities enables the state to practise stinginess: welfare is very low on its list of priorities. The main beneficiary of donations to charities is the capitalist class, who otherwise would pay, via taxes, for state expenditure. Here Nicholas True has done his sums:
When the unpaid efforts of charity volunteers are added to the monetary contributions made to the sector as a whole, it can be estimated that the cost of replacing the work of the voluntary sector would be well in excess of £20 billion—or some 12p or 13p on the basic rate of income tax . . . in financial terms alone the State has an enormous interest in sustaining . . . a thriving voluntary sector.
This pamphlet shows that, since 1979, state support for charities has grown significantly, mainly in two areas, both insignificant before 1979. Of £3,680m of state support for voluntary organisations, half goes in government grants to housing associations (£1,138m in 1987-88) and training agencies (£737m). The first enables the state to shrug off any responsibility for housing the homeless, and the second helps reduce the cost to the capitalists of supporting the unemployed.
To fill the gaps in state spending on "welfare" is the function of the legion of charities. The never-ending problems they seek to alleviate are caused by the fact that what we produce is not for our use but for the capitalist class's profit. Since the state is funded by the capitalist class, you get the absurdity of the have-not's giving from the little they earn to organisations whose real reason for existence is to save the capitalist class money.