You are here:   Text > The State of Charity
 
The relationship between government and the people changed so dramatically in the post-war years that late-Victorian Britain was widely seen as an ancien régime. The creation of the welfare state signalled that there was a decisive winner in the debate over social policy. The extraordinary circumstances of "total war" had necessitated planning of a universal nature and on a scale never seen before. The planning imperative meant that government paid scant heed to the democratic impulses and good offices of charitable associations with their ethic of personal service and selective provision. After all the strains and suffering of the 1930s and 1940s, fairness was a powerful argument on the side of widening government provision in the health and social services.

In what may be seen as the welfare equivalent of urban renewal, post-war reconstruction ravaged much of the historic fabric of the charitable social services. Something fundamental happened to British culture, once so Christian and voluntary. The traditional liberal ideal of balancing rights and duties had been supplanted, as the social critic David Selbourne observed, "by a politics of dutiless right". "The impression was given," as the former Labour Secretary of State for Health and Social Security Richard Crossman conceded, "that socialism was an affair for the Cabinet, acting through the existing Civil Service."

It was perhaps not surprising that politicians did not encourage popular participation in their reforms. Social laws offered a blueprint for the reconstruction of society that did not require the participation of volunteers or summonses to self-help. If the interests of the state and society were identical, intermediary institutions were superfluous. Ironically, the inheritance that politicians and civil servant mandarins welcomed — and built upon — was a systematic paternalism that far exceeded that of the voluntarists they often disavowed.

As the burden of care shifted radically to government, charitable service became characterised as an "amenity". There were occasional puffs offered to philanthropy by political leaders, but Crossman observed that to many on the Left philanthropy was "an odious expression of social oligarchy and churchy bourgeois attitudes" and "do-gooding a word as dirty as philanthropy". Barbara Castle, as Labour Minister of Health, believed that a proper social democracy should show "a toughness about the battle for equality rather than do-goodery". The use of "do-gooder" as a term of abuse encapsulated the transformation of values that had taken place.

In the post-war decades, British citizens showed little uneasiness with the greater ministerial control over their lives, for they widely identified with the achievements of the welfare state. It was not a strong current in political discussion to argue that effective social reform might come from below, from local institutions that derived their energy and legitimacy from openness to the immediate needs of individuals and communities. Across the political spectrum, politicians sought to replace the sense of community, which people had built up in the past out of family life and self-governing local institutions, with a sense of national community, built out of central bureaucratic structures and party politics. In passing social legislation, Parliament acted in the name of equality and social justice. The beauty of such abstractions perhaps blinded the public to the dangers of overburdening the state.

View Full Article
 
Share/Save
 
 
 
 
Malcolm McLean
November 11th, 2014
2:11 AM
Running a charity is a good middle class route to influence and government funds. There's usually an element of sincere motive, but pretty soon a grant or partnership comes along. That's so important to the charity that retaining this relationship becomes the overriding priority. People running the charity also benefit personally, if not by direct financial compensation, then indirectly by being asked to help formulate government policy, which is flattering, and tends to turn into financial benefit.

Malcolm McLean
November 11th, 2014
2:11 AM
Running a charity is a good middle class route to influence and government funds. There's usually an element of sincere motive, but pretty soon a grant or partnership comes along. That's so important to the charity that retaining this relationship becomes the overriding priority. People running the charity also benefit personally, if not by direct financial compensation, then indirectly by being asked to help formulate government policy, which is flattering, and tends to turn into financial benefit.

Post your comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.