Comment is Free – Charity Donations as Panacea

In December one of the requests for contributions to the People’s Panel on the Guardian’s Comment is Free section caught my eye, to coincide with the government encouraging us to donate more to charity. Jessica Reed, the editor, liked my pitch, and the following was used on the Guardian website. I was quite entertained reading the comments on the thread and have contributed to the debate here.

The full text is below:

The recent Facebook cartoon anti-child-abuse “campaign”started me thinking about people who make charitable gestures without understanding the cause. If this particular campaign – real or fake – has got some people reading into, or talking about, the complex issue of abuse, then that’s great, but what if you don’t really know where to start looking? How many of us could recognise an at-risk child unless they were covered in bruises? Would any of us know what to say or do if they were worried about abuse? Is it enough to say “I’m against child abuse”?

Donations have, importantly, increased to the NSPCC over the last few days, but if we don’t also engage with at least part of what a charity does, then we are missing the point of any social change they are trying to make. Financial donations are clearly essential to keep staff coordinating, researching, publicising and championing each cause, but a large part of charity work, especially with social inequality causes, is about changing social attitudes and behaviour through understanding. If we flag-wave without educating ourselves, it’s easy to relax, thinking we’ve done our bit – it’s become “somebody else’s problem”. Goodbye social responsibility, hello apathy. Even the benefit of any money we donate reduces as some of it is inevitably spent trying to educate us.

I’d like to see a change in the social norm. As well as asking for money, I’d like to see more charities such as Hope Not Hate asking people to get involved, speak to people, start letter-writing or donate time to helping out. It should be so normal to be asked if you can help practically that it’s automatic for everyone to seek meaningful information about what they can do to make a difference to the people in need around them – especially in a world of anonymous neighbours, financial worry, stress and the dreaded over-persistent telephone and street campaigner.


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