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article imageReview: ‘Panorama — All In A Good Cause’ Special

By Alexander Baron     Dec 11, 2013 in Business
If you've ever wondered why white liberals are such enthusiastic supporters of "good causes", this programme will stop you wondering.
The saying "charity begins at home" has never been truer for the people running Britain's biggest charities. Last year, Save The Children employed 590 staff at its London office under a CEO, former Labour spin doctor Justin Forsyth, on a salary of £162,000 a year.
This programme begins with a broadside at Amnesty International; the story behind the scandalous payouts to Irene Khan and her deputy Kate Gilmore is not new. Miss Khan, who is said to have a reputation as an anti-poverty campaigner, was on a salary of £132,490 a year. That certainly showed commitment to making her poverty history! That is not the only reason Amnesty has come under fire; there was for example the little matter of the fund-raising event that lost money as predicted, yet the organisation still went ahead with it. As this is a UK programme, there is no mention of the lies Amnesty trots out regularly Stateside in its opposition to the death penalty. To take just one example, here is Amnesty's take on convicted murderer Troy Davis. Now here are the facts of the case.
Save The Children has come under fire for entering into controversial corporate partnerships including with GlaxoSmithKline and British Gas. Conspiracy, vested interest and plain old-fashioned graft aside, it is always unwise to bite the hand that feeds you, and this has led to self-censorship at the board level.
Closer to home, it may be there is some internal rivalry at the BBC, because the programme tackles the claim made routinely that the money raised by the Beeb's Comic Relief goes to good causes, 100% of it. Define good! A little research shows that over £13 million of the £100 million raised from last year's event went on the wages bill. If you check out the Comic Relief website, it will be clear that its running costs are anything but nil. £13+ million though. Nice work if you can get it.
But it gets worse, Comic Relief hands over the money it receives to managed funds - which have well remunerated managers who in turn invest it in various places, including such fields such as alcohol, tobacco and defence (read the weapons industry). This might not bother you as an individual, but many people who donate money to humanitarian projects might just be averse to its being used to manufacture land mines, for instance.
When finally it is spent, this money is actually dished out by Comic Relief to other charities, some of whom also have highly remunerated staff.
It is now not so easy to research Comic Relief's accounts, because in recent years it has shown an unwillingness to declare the funds in which it actually invests its money. It remains to be seen why. Or does it? Where does all this leave you, dear reader?
The reality is that many so-called charities are no such thing; the charity is in the giving. The people who work for Amnesty, Save The Children, etc, are professionals who are paid professional salaries. Many so-called charities also receive government grants, which come from whom?
There are all manner of other organisations that have not-for-profit status; many of these carry out research, some of it of a very dubious nature. Even where the research or service is worthwhile, you should be aware that your donation will go towards funding salaries. To take just one example, medical researchers do not work for free.
For the ordinary person, the best advice is do not give to "charity" at all. There are other, more worthwhile things you can do.
You can volunteer in your community; you can donate to small organisations such as Froglife and Hedgehog Bottom.
Raising money for disasters like the recent Philippines crisis is a different matter; this is not charity but humanitarian aid. Yes, money will go towards paying pilots, food producers etc, but these are costs that have to be incurred, and there is no doubt that your dollar does make a difference.
As far as the relief of poverty is concerned, rather than give money to Save The Children, might it not be more efficacious to send money directly to someone? You can do this now. Even the charity ActionAid which invites you to sponsor a child spends 15% of its £60+ million income on fund-raising.
All In A Good Cause is currently on BBC iplayer for those who can receive it. Or check out the usual video sites later.
More about Panorama, Save The Children, Charity, Amnesty international, justin forsyth
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