Autumn has arrived. The leaves tumble, the nights close in, the clocks go back, the storms roll through. And, as sure as night follows day, Children in Need ads appear across the BBC, busses, social media and news outlets promoting the next marathon TV charity extravaganza.
Since 1980, led by Sir Terry Wogan, CiN has become an annual ritual in the giving calendar. Held every November, a Friday night is dedicated to celebrities doing crazy things, heart rendering tales of incredible and vulnerable kids and people sitting in baths of baked beans for hours on end.
The numbers are staggering. According to the most recent accounts available online and published in March 2015, the charity raised an amazing £49.7million last year alone and, since it began, has received more than £600m in funds. In 2014, again the last year available for data, “your support helped change the lives of 480,000 disadvantaged children and young people, right here in the UK.“, CiN gave out 8,517 emergency grants to individual children to the value of £2.1m and assisted in something between 2,400 and 2,600 projects across the country.
What could possibly be worth griping about? Disadvantaged or disabled kids being helped through the generosity of people across the country and, with the help of high profile celebrities and the BBC, raising awareness of the most vulnerable in society. And they are UK kids – not some foreign muck. This surely is the most heart warming, tear jerking, best of British that there is?
Well it is. Until you dig under the surface and look at both the successes, where the money is spent and the motivation of individuals and organisations involved.
First – where the money is spent. The big numbers all sound incredible. Hundreds of thousands of kids, thousands of organisations – all benefiting from millions of pounds.
Yet, before even looking at where the money is spent on good causes, one needs to look at the small print on where else the money sits or goes. You probably thought that all the money raised would go straight to worthy outlets? Well guess again. Using their own stats, out of the £49.7million raised in 2014, an eyewatering £7.2million, or 14% was spent on admin. That means, assuming that this admin percentage was constant since 1980, £84,000,000 has been spent on sending out and analysing the grants. Add to that, the cost of doing the fundraising equals another £3.2million or 6.4% in 2014 – which, since 1980 would mean a further £38.4million spent on raising money. Then on top of that, Auntie Beeb and the Trustees have a contingency fund – £107,000,000 – up £5,000,000 on the year before. That is the equivalent of all the money raised between 1998 and 2003 going into a bank account before the admin costs and fundraising costs were taken into account. That means half of the money you have raised has never ever ever directly helped a child. They don’t show you that in the ads do they?
Yes, you say, but even then, what about those kids and projects that have been helped and those lives that have been changed? Well, the numbers are big, but the cash amounts aren’t really much to write home about. With, in 2014, 8,517 kids getting emergency help to the tune of £2.1 million, that means, on average, each child receiving £246.57. Now I appreciate in the developing world many millions live on less than a dollar a day, but this is the UK, where the cost of living in considerably higher and it won’t buy you a hill of beans. Well, maybe a mound, but never a hill.
Then, there are the 480,000 lives that have been ‘changed’ and the 2,600 projects that have benefited. As above, in 2014, once you remove all the expenditure and savings, the £49.7million shrinks to £32.2million that is able to be spent on the stuff you thought you were raising your cash for. Each kid then, according to this, would receive in services around £67.08 from CiN, or each grant receiving body £12,384. Again, a nice sum if you were a scratchcard winner, but hardly a life changing amount if you are an organisation or a kid or a family.
The other trouble is that these grants only last a maximum of three years. If you are an organisation trying to help kids or stay afloat for long period of time, one of the key things you need if financial certainty. What is disastrous is for you to receive spankloads of cash one year and then the well dry up the next. Three years is next to no time if you are trying to build a safe place for kids to go or build a brand or a network, let alone to offer permanent help to disadvantaged people. And it is hard to get new donors when a big one like CiN has already got its emblem splashed all over your scout hut.
Casting further afield and assuming this sort of money is worth it, who does the show benefit? There seems to be three groups.
Firstly the Beeb – who get great publicity out of looking like they care using licence fee paying money to help push their need for ever greater resource and charter renewal. Well, apart from when they were forced to disclose that they paid Sir Tel Wogers for hosting the event that is.
Then there are the celebs whose agents tell them it is great for their profile to get on the charity gig scene (Prince’s Trust, Comic Relief, Text Santa, Stand up to Cancer etc etc). Sure they do it for ‘free’, but the cuddly publicity is worth its’ weight in gold. All the TV stations have one or more of these events and they all need celebs to come along and make a dick of themselves in the name of a cause and to boost ratings. Cue blubbing C-lister sent to some dark corner of Africa/hospital/Sunderland (delete as appropriate) to demonstrate how poor/disabled/starving/limbless some poor sod is in order to sell their latest single/distract from latest kissntell story in tabloid/attempt to get noticed for their failing acting career.
Then there is you, dear reader. You feel righteous by running 300 metres and raising £25 for CiN and make all your work colleagues and families life a misery by telling them over and over about it. You feel cleansed by donating a few pennies of your hard earned cash and better than the rest of us great unwashed who stand idly by. Or you sit contentedly on your sofa safe in knowledge that you are helping boost the ratings by watching the four hour boreathon all in the name of the good cause.
Yet – it was all a pointless drop in the ocean. Your few quid, even ten thousand quid raised or donated helps not one jot. Quite the opposite. By getting rid of your guilt about the worlds ails and donating 0.001% of your cash to a worthy cause you, and society, lose any momentum that could have pushed successive governments into doing something really worthwhile.
There are 1,000,000 disadvantaged kids in Britain and the number is growing not declining. Something fundamental needs to change to really help these poor little bleeders – an increase in tax, a shift in the way social care is delivered, greater opportunities for the disabled, better educational system, less disparity in wealth, improved housing stock, more stable family settings to name but a few.
The trouble is that it is far more complex than just texting ‘poorlittleshit’ to 85058 to give £3. It takes effort and willpower and patience and understanding of both the electorate and the elected representatives. And it will take sacrifices to take from the richer to give to the poorer. And why should the electorate do this when they have already donated? Meanwhile, the politicians don’t have anyone complaining so they can put it to the back of the pile even when things are getting worse not better.
Worse still, there are no lobbies complaining about how charity makes things worse in the long run, not better. The BBC and TV stations won’t – they are doing the tedious programmes. Charities won’t as that puts them out of business. Left wing papers won’t as they believe it helps the poor and the readers would hate the idea that it doesn’t. Right wing ones won’t as they know that getting rid of charities means the gap has to be filled with meaningful state intervention – and that means tax rises.
So we are left with people feeling good about making a situation worse and no one offering an examination of this, let alone solutions. Perhaps, when you turn on the Terry Wogan memorial Children in Need memorial programme next month, maybe have a chew about what you could really do to help stop kids being abused, maltreated or exposed to the worst malfeasance of society. For that way, you may do more to help turn an awful situation round than any imbecile in a baked bean bath