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It doesn't add up...

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

4Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

John Adlington

Absolutely spot on, the state has to a large extent co-opted a large part of the charitable sector to itself through state funding. This cannot be regarded as a positive move. David Cameron's desire to use the charitable sector to deliver large part of that currently delivered by the state should be seen in this light. It would perversely lead to less accountability for service delivery paid for through taxation.

Christina Speight

It is not just the NGOs muscling in on the charitable field, it is the downgrading of major former charities into NGOs or quangos. I am now acutely aware that (eg) the RSPCA, Christian Aid, the NSPCC, the RSPB are all soliciting government money and working to fulfill (again eg) EU targets. Then there are the ;charities' where the senior executive's salaries and the costs of fund-raising dwarf the benefits disbursed.

In some cases registered charities actually promote contriversial causes which are bitterly by some. Are THEY charities?

I realise thast part of this not 'black-and-white;. For example I devote a lot of time and effortand support to the English Music Festival which gets not one penny from the Arts Council of England while many ethnic pop groups do! Are we right to solicit some aid while remaining a charity. ?


An excellent introduction to a laudatory goal -- reuniting conservatism to principle when, for so long, practice had been the held to be the pre-eminent virtue.

Professor Scruton sets up an incisive dichotomy between voluntary charity and those associative actions under the direction (dare I say the sanction?) of the State.

One can only add the wisdom of Frédéric Bastiat: ‘Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.’

Barrie Stephenson

This a knee jerk response, but would we have universal health care free at the point of need if it was still provided by charities, or free education for all if it was being delivered in Sunday Schools. Whilst I applaud the work of charities (I am the Chairman of one myself) it seems that today we are picking up the job that was once provided by statutory funding. Volunteers are running libraries, providing support services for homeless people to name just two areas where local government funding used to provide. It's hardly surprising that some organisations have become politically prominent as they campaign for essential services to be provided from taxation rather than being dependent on charitable giving.


A typical conservative tactic is to suggest that some things are not political like charity. However everything is political one way or another. Conservatives don't want charity to be political, they want it to be something else because once it is not political its not up for debate, its just 'common sense' or 'an offer of help'. Of course such an offer raises the question of why people need such offers and why others are able to make such offers. It is of course all about control. But rather than X being a right it becomes a priviledge to be given to the poor by those nice rich people. And of course it can be taken away by the same people.

Oscar Wilde put it best when he wrote
'We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt on the part of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? They should be seated at the board, and are beginning to know it. As for being discontented, a man who would not be discontented with such surroundings and such a low mode of life would be a perfect brute. Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion'.

And Oscar was much more anti-state than Roger is...

Peter Thurgood

Roger states "Charity is not politics but the opposite of politics. It is not an attempt to control people, to create a new political order or to impose an ideological agenda. It is an offer of help, from one body of citizens to another. Recognising this, the English law has defined charity as a sphere of its own, outside the activity of government"

I agree with those points Roger, as my wife works in the charity sector - but as a staunch Conservative it pains me to say that "we" are as guilty of manipulating so called charities to suit our political agenda as the Labour Party are - and I am thinking one particular "charity", which is ASH.

ASH does nothing truly worthwhile and just bows to Party Policy while getting handsomely rewarded by the taxpayer.

Roger goes on to say "This is the very opposite of charity, in which people give their time, energy and resources for free, in order to help their neighbours along a path that the neighbours themselves have chosen"

ASH are not there to help their neighbours along a path that the neighbours themselves have chosen - just the opposite in fact, they are there to order and bully their neighbours into doing exactly what they say, at the behest of their political masters.

Is there any way, Mr Scruton, you can see that we can challenge this so called "charity"?

Rupert Butler

I can see the point Mr Scruton is making about non-government organisation, but surely he is not against organisation per se. He will understand that charity must be for ever very small, if organisation is to be avoided.

Most charitable activity is huge and hugely organised whether it is supporting the work of government or not. One pernicious result of this fact is the well established practice of paying Charity executives really handsome salaries. This is done in the belief that the Charity accrues more income and dispenses its benevolence more efficiently than would otherwise be the case.

Following Mr Scruton’s logic, I suggest that such salaries and the work that the executives do should be isolated from the formal Charity; that Charities may own trading corporations and (as owners) project their charitable purposes through them, but that they stay formally and absolutely outside of them. I would then insist on a very severe standard of giving-and-not-receiving for the members and leadership of those Charities. Ideally no expenses, no free lunches, no free travel, and no fancy hotels – any such costs to be paid from taxed income.

In this climate, Charities could serve the government of the day without being suborned by the Gordon Browns of this world. At the same time, the Charity Commission can easily determine that the instigators of the Charities get only the most pure satisfaction from their generosity.

Private schools, being owned by separate Charities and surrendering all their taxable income to them, could escape the baleful eye of Dame Suzi. National schools and NHS hospitals, enjoying a revenue stream of taxpayers’ money, could move with honesty into the private sector for the better management that they might find there if they and the taxpayers should know that these institutions are ultimately owned by a Charity whose only perceptible interest is the public good.

There is no need to interfere with private giving, on whatever scale. Usually however collecting charity and dispensing it needs organisation. That organisation should be so structured as deliberately to separate it from government and to separate it from the residual self-indulgence of the wealthy giver.

Mohammed Amin

I strongly support the point Roger Scruton is making.

A further and important aspect of Labour's politicisation of this area is the "Public benefit" test that is now part of charity law. The reality is that it was introduced as a way of getting at public schools.

Accordingly, it is no longer enough that a charitable institution provides education on a non-commercial basis with any surpluses being ploughed back into the educational activity. Instead it has to demonstrate "public benefit", a woolly test whose interpretation is led by socialists. That test is now being used to question the charitable status of the Plymouth Bretheren, and we can expect to see it misused more widely.

A Conservative government should have the courage of its convictions and repeal Labour's public benefit test on the grounds that it was never more than a political deception.


Having worked for a small community charity I saw at first hand how the larger charities became more attached to the last Labour Government and how smaller charities then fell by the wayside. Also Councils and Colleges applied for charitable and government funds, were successful and then doled out small amounts of cash to smaller charities who were doing an excellent, cost effective job. Ultimately lack of funds sounded their death nell.


OOOPS, I interpreted David Cameron's suggestion to be that people who want to give to charities should give to charities and that the state should not give to charities? When I was on benefits I always thought of it as charity, sadly, most of my family and friends think of it as a right.
I believe that giving to charity is a personal thing and don't want charity distributed on my behalf. I don't think my family and friends would find it as easy to "bum off" me as they do to "bum off" the state.
Also, my experience of being a volunteer community councillor is that most people are very "free" in giving money when it is not seen as their own - they are very free with "giving" time when the time is not their own e.g. getting a council worker to do the task. If these same people are asked to contribute either time or money, they become very quiet on the topic and seem to lose interest in the project. Most of the people who attended community council meetings were unemployed (as they had more time on their hands) so most suggestions to spend money came from them and centred around their wants - suggesting we should do something for the elderly or the environment for example did not get as much support.
It is easy to sit in an arm chair and be disgusted with a situation but it doesn't necessarily translate into action. When we get everyone to appreciate that it is THEIR money or time that is needed and the activity may impact other services, they may be more thoughtful and we will get genuine charity.
There is general ignorance in some circles leading to the misapprehension that "council money" or "government money" is magicked up from somewhere - we need to make the connection in peoples minds that this money is coming out of someone's wage packet.
Some charities have become too powerful and enlisted the state in their activities without the consent of the voters, e.g. the RSPCA who regularly tie up state funded services e.g. police and courts, with costly actions to get their way and are co opted as supposed experts e.g. in the 70's the RSPCA frowned upon not feeding dogs "proper" dog food (tinned) and people who fed dogs traditionally with scraps were targeted as neglectful owners - last year they did a 360 and advised dog owners to consider feeding pets scraps in "these tough economic times".


There is an element missing in the argument. Charities have become NGO's and have been co-opted by the "Labour" movement as another arm of the state, but, this doesn't quite go far enough. I would argue that the charitable sector has become corporatised. Not only are they becoming increasingly reliant on the state they are managed and marketed as if they were supermarket chains. The very use of the phrase "charitable sector" emphasises this. More insidiously, the voluntary spirit is being suborned to give these charitable corporations a competitive advantage. Isn't that why the high street is increasingly becoming dominated by "Charity" shops run by volunteer labour which the increasingly threatened commercial shops can't compete with ?

Roger Scruton is right to remind us what the charitable instinct achieved in the past. Unfortunately, in our current economy this type of charity has become the preserve of the small group of financial and managerial oligarchs that have enough spare income and time to exercise it. For most people charity seems to have become a disconnected and depressing process whereby the charitable act is delegated to the charity brand that makes us feel good. If charity really the work of volunteers, giving to others and receiving their gratitude in return our Charities will need to become less corporate and more local. Above all the economy will need to adjust to allow more people the time to engage and to volunteer.

John Thomas

" ...everything is political one way or another." (Oscarfan, here) - I've often heard political people (mainly Left-wing) say something like this. What it means is that there is NOTHING which that cannot use to gain their (own) ends, ie. gain more power for themselves [I'm not suggesting at all that this is Oscarfan's angle, of course, it's just that these words remind me ...]

Revd Frank Julian Gelli

Roger is right in pointing out the crucial distinction between a charity and an NGO. NGOs are often political organisations masquerading as charities: think of Oxfam, for example. We should laud and uphold charities, while watch carefully, and be ready to be very critical of, NGO's.


Oscarfan makes the point that recipients of charity should not be grateful because the giver is potentially being given power over the recipient - I agree, and this is why the UK is in such a state - people who take charity (welfare) are not grateful. Those of my family who are on welfare and never work (and they number in the dozens and still breeding) ARE disgruntled they do not get more and they are even more disgruntled that someone would want them to work for it! They are disgruntled enough to complain, but not embarrassed enough to work!
And before anyone says, its a right to get welfare - they don't even believe that one!
The person with the longest welfare track record I know (30yrs) frequently says "charity makes us slaves but I would rather be the slave than the worker!"
Lets face it, most people learn to milk the system in their own way and to varying degrees - if a system is harsher, only those who really REALLY need help will ask for it.
Currently, some people I know are joining soup lines to "look like" they need help even though they go to bingos and have holidays and eat out. They say I'm a fool for paying taxes! Life's a laugh isn't it?


Whilst clearly, charity can improve the lives of the unfortunate in many ways, it also has a negative impact: like state welfare - charity discourages self-responsibility.

Therefore charity should be limited to those who genuinely cannot support themselves: the disabled, children of poor families and people living in countries where the absence of the rule of law (or an equivalent) to protect property rights means they are unable to support themselves. Indeed, ideally the disabled and children should be supported by insurance policies taken out by their parents prior to conception which would cover disability or unplanned pregnancies.

Benefactors will have their own opinions on who are the 'deserving poor' and so charity provision may not be objective: it may be political. They might choose not to give to people who, in their opinion, pursue immoral lifestyles, for example. However, benefactors would be giving up the fruits of their labour to provide for others and would therefore be entitled to do so in a way which maintains their own moral integrity.

Where there are wider social benefits to charity, such as the protection of the countryside or the funding of higher education, these aims can generally be better served by the market through those who benefit paying: through full tuition fees for example, or through those who use the countryside forming entities to purchase land and ensure its protection (incidentally, such an approach might avoid the disneyfication of our wild spaces that the National Trust brings about). This is not true charity in that people are coming together and giving for their own needs rather than the needs of others.

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