It is a shame and shameful that the Church of England has deviated so far from what it could and should be about. First it should be about the religion itself – about leading a Christian life, behaving well, helping others, obeying the ten commandments, praising God and so on. Second it should be about putting Christian charity into action.
Most people don’t know what a hugely important force for good the Church of England used to be. All the leading teaching hospitals in London were originally charitable hospitals. They were created by wealthy people encouraged by the church.
Typically they were named after Christian saints including St Thomas, St Mary, St Bartholomew and St George.
The Church of England also founded schools on a massive scale in the 19th century. Some of our best-known figures such as David Lloyd-George were educated in them. They are still regarded as better than other schools although, to its shame, the Church meekly submitted to the almost total take-over by the state. The Church also used to have a big role administering welfare aid to the poor in a variety of ways. Church-supported and inspired charities were enormously important. The Church was therefore seen not as it is now – as a Left-inclined lecturer sitting on the sidelines, offering unwanted opinions on matters beyond its expertise. It was perceived as a vigorous and sincere offeror of help and succour to those in need.
Of course the Church does still provide help to the needy. But it is on a puny scale compared to what it was. And the Archbishop does not make this the focus of his energies. It really is a waste that he should be commenting on the regulation of short-selling when, for example, he could be urging wealthy people to create a fund to pay for cancer drugs that the NHS will not supply. Or he could be creating new Church schools that are truly independent and thus able to regain some of the excellence they once had. Action and leadership and purpose would get him respect. Expressing political views is bound to offend half the people all of the time.
If he really thinks that government should provide all welfare and there is no role for the Church or for individuals, then he really is letting his Left-wing views interfere with his Christianity. Frankly, it is amazing and appalling that a whole raft of individuals from David Beckham to Bill Gates are better know for their charitable efforts than is the Church of England.
Dr Rowan will get a lot of stick for his latest remarks. He may like to think that tomatoes and rotten eggs have been pelted at Archbishop of Canterbury for decades and that it is merely the way things are for religious leaders. But that is not true. Pope John Paul II received praise for his wise and considered words about old age. Some Church of England bishops in the past were so popular that congregations would walk across cities to hear their sermons. I am afraid that few are going even to cross the road to hear Dr Rowan warbling on about capitalism.
The above is part of the original draft of an article for the Daily Express.
After writing The Welfare State We're In, I now notice instances of welfare provision as they appear in novels which previously I would have missed. Recently I listened again to an audio-book of Mapp and Lucia, the comic novel by E.F.Benson. For the first time, I noticed that the focus of the early rivalry between the two women was the competition between their two charitable events for the benefit of the local hospital.
Lucia won this battle hands-down. Everyone went to her fete. No one went to Mapp's event. But underneath the comedy lies the way in which it was simply normal for people of their class to put on events to raise money for local hospitals.
These hospitals might be charitable or run by the local authority. In either case, the people of the town or locality felt that they were connected to it. They, personally, might need it one day. They had a stake. They could also gain status by helping it financially and probably in other ways, too.
The town in which Mapp and Lucia is set is called Tilling. But I think I am right in saying it is based on the very pretty Sussex coastal town of Rye.
I wonder how hospital provision in Rye has changed since Mapp and Lucia was written (circa 1930?)? Did it have a hospital then? Does it have a hospital now?
Whatever may be the case, it is certainly true that hundreds of local hospitals have been closed down since the NHS was created. There are some good reasons for this and some bad. It is noticeable that the Labour Party, when it promoted the idea of the NHS in 1942 argued that local provision of hospitals was important. After the NHS was created, both parties were persuaded that big hospitals offered economies of scale and could develop the capacity to deal with all eventualities. They could also develop particular strengths. But since then, the political parties have re-discovered the idea that local healthcare has it merits in maxi-GP practices or mini-hospitals.
Of course local hospitals have their merits. That is why pre-NHS healthcare created them. In some ways the value of them has actually increased. If there is an emergency in one part of London and a patient needs to be rushed to hospital, it now takes longer to get there because of the density of traffic. The same applies all around the country. I presume that, in some cases, patients lives can be at risk because of the distance between an emergency patient and a hospital.
A local hospital can promote loyalty and commitment on the part of both staff and patients. Patients in hospital are also easier to visit if they are local and this, in turn, means they are more likely to be visited and, I believe, those who are visited are more likely to get well soon.
The closure of quite so many local hospitals has surely been one of the range of bad effects of the creation of the NHS.
In the wake of the budget, I will be taking part in a lunchtime debate tomorrow (Thursday) on the subject: "Does public spending gives us enough bang for our buck?". It will come no surprise to those who have read 'The Welfare State We're In' that I will argue that public spending tends to be extremely wasteful.
The debate will take take place at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. (I am sorry to be disrespectful to the hosts of this debate, but I notice that the RSA appears to be another ancient charity whose original purpose is no longer respected. I rather doubt that the 18th century creators of the society would have subscribed to its current commitment towards creating a 'zero-waste society'. It is quite a modern racket, this taking over old charities and using the money to get an income and promote one's views.)
For a variety of entries on 'waste in public services', try this category in the list in the left-hand column.
The reference to The Welfare State We're In in the Wall Street Journal Econoblog yesterday related to the parts of my book concerning charity.
Those who are interested to pursue the subject further could look at the references to the remarkable history of charity in the book itself. They could also click onto the category 'charity' in the column on the left or, rather better, use the search facility further down the left-hand column and search for 'charity'.
Below is a section from a David Cameron speech this month. It is clear that he intends to support charity as a part of his approach to welfare. I am a sceptic about Cameron but this, as far as it goes, is a plus.
There are some 700,000 non-statutory, non-profit organisations in the UK. They include everything from a handful of neighbours getting together to organise a play group, to the great national charities like the NSPCC or the National Trust. They include social enterprises, clubs, religious bodies, trade unions, pressure groups, friendly societies, care homes, and many more. The map of social action in Britain is a vibrant kaleidoscope of institutions and organisations, competing and combining, developing effective local responses to local needs.
Gordon Brown once described charity as "the sad and seedy competition for public pity." I think that attitude is patronising, damaging and profoundly misguided. The voluntary sector should be neither poor relation nor a cut-price alternative to government. lt is absolutely central to the life of the nation, but with a character and contribution all of its own.
This reflects a profound philosophical difference between the parties. Where Labour think that an individual's identity consists in being recognised, registered and assisted by the state, Conservatives think that identity is derived through membership in society. Labour think that social justice principally means equality, achieved and guaranteed by government. We think it means community, built and maintained by people themselves.
To me those 700,000 organisations prove that there is such a thing as society. It's just not the same thing as the state. The term "the third sector" was first coined by the liberal economist Friedrich von Hayek, the intellectual guru of Thatcherism. In Law, Legislation and Liberty Hayek wrote that "it is most important for a healthy society that we preserve between the commercial and the governmental sector a third, independent sector."
I mention this not because I want to claim the sector for the Conservative political tradition. That would be quite wrong. But because I want to show that the principles of the free market are not incompatible with the principles of voluntarism and social action which we associate with the third sector.
(Unedited version of article which appeared in the Daily Express last week.)
Just when you think that the world is getting into a worse and worse state, something happens to revive your faith. Yesterday it was revealed that a 'hedge fund' - an exclusive kind of investment fund - might be the biggest charitable donor in Britain. Last year it gave £50 million to a foundation which helps impoverished and orphaned children in Africa and another £33 million to a charity based in America.
These were not one-off donations either. The Children's Investment Fund donates half a per cent of its assets to charity every year and another half per cent if it does particularly well. It was set up by Chris Hohn, 39, a graduate of Southampton University, and has become one of the most successful hedge funds in Europe.
These gifts - from the heart of high-finance - come on top of the news earlier this week that Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the world, is giving US$37 billion to a charitable foundation. It happens to be one set up by the richest man of all, Bill Gates.
Suddenly there seems to be a deluge of charitable giving by the super-rich. It is wonderful and encouraging. But the most significant thing about it is that it is also realistic.
There has been a growing realisation - both here and in America - that governments are not going to put right all the wrongs in our own countries, let alone all the problems of the world. We need to take action ourselves - either by creating charities of our own or by funding those people willing to do the work.
We have seen how a significant minority of government schools have become academies of crime. We have seen, only this week, how one NHS hospital is in such a bad way that the dead have been left in wards overnight. Yesterday also brought news of a giant £215 million stock of unused mobile homes ordered by the US government for distribution to the victims of Hurrican Katrina. They were never put into place.
There is a growing understanding that government-controlled operations have a tendency to develop top-heavy bureaucracies, to waste money and cause downright undesirable outcomes. Charities, it must be admitted, are not perfect either. But they have their advantages. They tend to be quicker to react. They are often operated by highly-motivated, philanthropic individuals who work for less than they could get in commerce - or government.
Some people may think that a revival of charities is a throwback to the days of Charles Dickens. They are right. But that is no cause for shame. On the contrary, it should be a source of confidence in the potential power of charity.
Where did all the great teaching hospitals of London like St Bart's and St Mary's come from?
Charitable donations. Where did most schools come from before the state took over? Charitable funds and endowments, largely given by the members of the various faiths including the Methodists, Catholics and Jews.
There were far more hospitals in Britain before the National Health Service took over in 1948 than there are now. Many of them were were charitable ones, including the Great Ormonde Street Hospital and Moorfields, the eye hospital. Moorfields, incidentally, was set up in response to an eye disease brought back by soldiers from Egypt during the Napoleonic wars. It was an example of how charities can be set up very quickly in response to need.
The development of the greatest medical breakthrough of the 20th century - penicillin - was financed almost entirely by charity. The crucial stage took place in Oxford University with finance provided by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Charity today also has tremendous potential. The Bill Gates foundation already spends more fighting AIDS and TB than the World Health Organisation.
But charitable activity also often takes place on a small scale where it is barely noticed and rarely measured. A niece of mine has been working for a charity called L'Arche which cares for people with mental difficulties. The work is done without fuss on a small scale in ordinary homes around the country. It is a terrific service and my dear, heroic niece has done her work for a pittance. A rapid growth is taking place in the number of new faith schools. This is mostly a response to the failure of certain state schools. I myself have met a young man who frankly admits that if he had stayed at the comprehensive he was attending, he would now be in jail. Instead, he went to a charitably-supported independent school and has become a model citizen instead.
One of the good aspects of the new charities is that they passionately want results. The 'hedge fund' charity is said to be businesslike in wanting to establish whether or not the money it gives makes a difference. Similarly the Robin Hood Foundation in New York wants to know how much benefit comes from funding, among many other things, "charter schools" - schools that are somewhat independent of government - in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
In previous centuries when charity was so important, the superstars of the day got publicly involved. The great artist Hogarth painted a wall for St Bart's Hospital. Frederick Handel, organised a performance of the Messiah to help finance the Foundling Hospital.
The same kind of thing can happen now and has already to some extent. It is not widely recognised that David Beckham has done a great deal to help many charities and has set up his own foundation. The Prince of Wales's efforts are, of course, well known. But this could go a great deal further.
If, as I hope, charity revives in a big way, then there is one cautionary note to be struck. Like the Victorians - the greatest charity givers - before us, we must become intelligent and discriminating in our giving. There is little point giving money to a government institution which will use the money no more effectively than taxpayers' money. Money will go further if donated to independent charities such as Marie Curie Cancer Care and the many hospices around the country.
The welfare state made people think, for several generations, that charity was not really necessary. But now we are learning that the welfare state has not got all the answers and in many instances has made things worse. Charity has been a part of civilisation since ancient Greece. It is a good thing that saves individuals and can help restore our society. Its revival should be supported with enthusiasm.
If you Google 'David Beckham charity' you discover that his involvement in charities is much larger than most people realise.
I was fascinated today to come across a sidelight on the psychology of welfare before the welfare state.
I was doing a check on the history of Moorfields, the eye hospital. The hospital's own website reveals how it was set up explicitly for the poor. It also shows how it was consider utterly wrong for those who could afford to pay for medical care to take advantage of its free services:
The London Dispensary for curing diseases of the Eye and Ear was opened in 1805 by John Cunningham Saunders (1773-1810). The impetus for the formation of the world's first specialist eye hospital seems to have been an epidemic of trachoma. This is a form of potentially blinding tropical conjunctivitis which was brought back to England by British troops returning from the Napoleonic wars in Egypt. However, the number of patients seeking treatment steadily increased, forcing a move to a larger site in 1822 and finally to its present main site on City Road, central London, in 1899. At this time, the first specialist departments were set up (X ray and Ultra Violet treatment rooms). The hospital was still operating as a charity and each patient received an admission card that read:
'This letter is granted to the applicant in being poor. Its acceptance therefore by anyone not really poor constitutes an abuse of charity.'
I notice that the Moorfields website includes guidance on waiting times. They are pretty daunting if you add, as it seems you should, the waiting time for the first appointment to the waiting time for sugery. For glaucoma, for instance, the total waiting time is over six months.
I wonder what the waiting times were like before the NHS took over the management of the hospital? I wonder what the waiting times are like now in other comparable countries in Europe and in America and Japan?
I provided a soundbite for the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning. I was the last of several people to be interviewed by Polly Billington on the subject of 'social enterprise'. To listen, click here and go to the 8.10am segment of the programme. This link should work today but I am not sure about thereafter.
I am always on the look-out for charities worth supporting. This one, featured in the Daily Telegraph today, looks, on the face of it, as if it is one.
They turn despair into hope. They take people who are homeless, people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, people on whom life has seldom smiled, and provide them with a home and a job - and, just as importantly, a sense of self-worth. They are also in the conversion business in another sense: they make the projects pay for themselves by taking in unwanted household goods, restoring and sorting them, and selling them at a decent profit. The bits and pieces, like the people themselves, are restored to a proper and valued place in life.
I have a feeling, though I could be wrong, that this charity does not receive government funding. Given that government funding tends to lead to the government telling charities how to operate and superimposing costs and waste, this would good.
The most fashionable Christmas present this year is a goat. Not for oneself, of course, but for some poor family in Africa or India. The giving of a goat is advertised everywhere. As an alternative, one is encouraged to give a toilet. The true sound of Christmas is no longer a tinkling sleigh bell but a distant bleating or a resounding flush.
We hear a lot about charitable giving at Christmas and it is tempting to think we are generous people, forever digging into our pockets to help those less fortunate. Viewers of Strictly Come Dancing have had the satisfaction when voting for Darren Gough, Zoe Ball or Colin Jackson of knowing that some of the inflated cost of the phone call is going to Children In Need. The BBC annually tells us how generous and wonderful we are for supporting its favoured charity.
The truth is that we give a fraction of what the Victorians donated. According to a survey in 1895, middle-class people gave 10 per cent of their income to charity. And what do we give? Last year it was £8.2bn - well under one per cent of our income.
(The above is an excerpt from an article I wrote for The First Post website. The full article is here. The article concludes with the following:)
We are right to be careful about charitable giving. The Victorians were very thoughtful about it. We should be both more generous and more selective. There is little point helping an NHS hospital to buy a new operating theatre if it is going to stand idle for long periods of time because the hospital trust is in deficit and has to save money.
One key to good giving these days, is to choose those charities which have as little as possible to do with government. My own personal dream is to be involved in creating a new charitable clinic or hospital wholly outside governmental control. In the meantime, charities must learn to be careful what they do with my money, or the goat will get it this Christmas.