There has been much celebration about the record £37 million raised by the Children in Need show on Friday night. £37 million may sound a lot, but in the context of huge cuts to public spending, it is a drop in the ocean and for each worthy project that will be funded by the money raised, many more worthy projects to combat poverty will be cut in the name of austerity. A far more effective way to tackle UK poverty is to vote.
The abolition of the Independent Living Fund at the end of June this year is one of many cuts that underlines the limited value of the £37 million raised on Friday. The Independent living fund cost £320 million a year and paid an average of £300 a week to approximately 18,000 of the countries most disabled people. The fund was given to people who had a wide variety of disabilities, most dominantly learning disabilities and cerebral palsy. It was used to help pay for carers and personal assistants that could help them live in their communities, rather than in residential care homes. Although, the government has said that the money has not been cut, just the burden shifted to local councils, due to the severe financial restraints, the previous independent Living Allowance recipients have found themselves significantly worse off under the new arrangements. The money raised on Friday could only revive about 11% of this fund for one year which although is something, is nothing near to the amount of money needed to provide proper independence to the most severely disabled in our country. The HMRC estimates that if corporation tax were to be raised by just 1%, the fund could be funded 5 times over every year.
A big problem of relying on charitable funding for poverty alleviation measures is that it is by its very nature discretionary. Charitable funding does some great work but that work is limited by the money that is received; it cannot provide a blanket assurance to all in need. This is wrong on two levels. Firstly, it sees support of the vulnerable as an add on that should only get paid for if people feel like donating money to pay for it. State support sees the support of the vulnerable as a vital part of our society, not an addition to it. Secondly, due to limited funding, charitable funding is unfair because it means that people of equal need get unequal treatment; one blind person may receive a guide dog whereas another may not despite being in equal need.
I am not saying Children in Need isn’t a great charity, nor am I saying it doesn’t do some great work. Neither am I criticising anyone for donating to them because at the end of the day, every little helps. What I am saying is that small donations to alleviate poverty in the UK is no substitute for voting against the militant austerity agenda which has contributed to much of this poverty in the first place. Since 2010 when the Conservatives took control of government, albeit firstly in coalition, foodbank use has skyrocketed; official statistics from the Trussell Trust show that over 1 million people were given emergency 3 day food parcels over 2014-2015 period. This isn’t a problem £37 million raised on a Friday night show, or even charity donations in general can solve, this is a problem that needs the government to make fundamental reforms to redistribute income and properly fund public services. I believe this cannot, and will not, be achieved by our present government.
Overall, it is right to enjoy the show and donate in support of an act if you can, but don’t expect the country to change dramatically. That is what happens at election times. If you really want to change the country, make sure you get on the electoral register now, and vote at election times.