Helen Martin: Charities machine out of control

Charity collections are now everywhere we go. Pic: Greg Macvean.
Charity collections are now everywhere we go. Pic: Greg Macvean.
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NEVER has the phrase “charity begins at home” been so true. Although to be fair, it also begins in the supermarket, in shopping malls, on one’s mobile and e-mail. We are being bombarded on every side by appeals.

The scammers have joined in, so not all these appeals are actually genuine. Even those that are, often employ tactics that are certainly less straightforward than, “please help us”.

There is the familiar “gift pack” especially at Christmas. Along with the begging letter comes a free pen, your personalised address labels, a couple of festive drinks coasters and a few free Christmas cards. Presumably the aim is to make you feel so guilty at being given this stuff you feel duty bound to pay for it. I don’t. Instead I question how much of the money I might have donated goes to funding all this tacky rubbish instead of the cause itself.

Then there are the call centres. We all hate call centres. They’re a damn nuisance. If anything ensures I will never buy a product or give a bean to a charity, it’s their use of incessant, random calls. In our house we’ve resorted to unplugging the phone in an attempt to stop them.

If I have agreed to give to a charity, I find a donation isn’t enough, oh no. They want a monthly direct debit. If you are mug enough to agree to that, within six months a call centre is ringing you up again asking you to double it.

Excluding volunteers, charity workers are now among the best-paid people in the market. Whether they are area manager of a few charity shops, fundraising manager or chief executive of the whole shebang, most are certainly not on “charity” wages. Their argument is that the best people bring in most donations. That’s as maybe.

But those generous people who donate, including little old ladies and kiddies sending pocket money and bake sale proceeds, are doing so to save abandoned puppies, feed the starving, inoculate babies, provide mosquito nets or treat the sick . . . not pay a shop manager £30,000, shell out over £100,000 per annum for a “charity worker” higher up the chain, or produce TV and cinema ads that could have been directed by Speilberg.

Such is the business sophistication of charities that they have indeed become businesses paying business wages. . . . yet still depending on hand-outs from conscience-stricken members of the public who want to help the needy.

Some charities even market themselves so stylishly that they manage to bestow a certain glamour on rich supporters who attend a sparkling event more to be seen than to genuinely contribute to good works. Some might say, as long as it raises money, who cares? But so successful has the charity sector become that in many cases it has wiped out any expectation of government or big business provision. Charity now pays for or contributes to everything from school equipment to end of life care. It pays for medical research. Why don’t pharmaceutical companies make that investment and set it off against their obscene, market-playing profit margins?

Because of bad governance, some people can’t afford to eat. Does the government give them food or act against companies paying poverty wages? No, we set up food bank charities instead.

There are many genuine charities and dedicated volunteers, those who keep admin costs down and don’t cream fat salaries and office costs off the top. But if we can’t tell the difference, how can we prevent this relentless march back to Dickensian values where ordinary society’s needs are dependant on charity and the rich ease their consciences and raise their social status with patronage?

I hope Kelly’s eye for fashion tops Marks’

AROUND 60 per cent of women over 50 say they can’t find clothing that suits them on the high street, an astonishing statistic considering the size of the fashion industry, the choices that should be available, and the fact that – rightly or wrongly – over 50s have the dosh to spend.

But try hunting for a dress with half sleeves. Look for something designed for a fiftysomething shape rather than just “sized-up” from a design made for a 19-year-old catwalk model with a concave tummy who has never given birth or felt the accumulated effects of years of gravity.

And consider how much of the stock on the rails nowadays comes from eastern manufacturers where women are of smaller stature, from the size of their feet to the length of their legs, let alone the size of their bust.

Saint Lorraine (Kelly that is) has begun work on a range for ‘mature’ women to capture some of that market, worth almost £7 billion.

Hope she has more success than Saint Michael.

Media’s Sexism

WE might now have a female First Minister. How enlightened. But what a pity we had all the usual obsession and analysis about her outfit. Didn’t see a single comment on what Eck was wearing on his last day.

Posted Missing

THE six-days-a-week post and parcel service to rural areas is now at risk in Scotland, because following privatisation Royal Mail can’t afford to maintain the unprofitable service. Salmond has every right to say “I told you so”.