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Charity

And, yet again, I am feeling angry and reflective in equal measures thanks to something I’ve just seen on TV.

I’ve just seen an interview with one of the two homeless guys in Manchester who ran to help people who were bleeding and lying, seriously injured and even dying at the Arena and in the street, after the horrible attack in Manchester earlier this week. What an an amazing, selfless, wonderful human being. He fully deserves all the praise and plaudits and gratitude he is receiving, a true hero. And he wasn’t the only one either. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the other gentleman who cradled a dying woman in his arms as well. He was also homeless but that didn’t stop him trying to help where he could and offer comfort where it was needed.

But, what’s got me wondering is what’s actually happened here? What’s changed? Would the people who are setting up Go Fund Me and Just Giving appeals and donating money to these guys have even given them a second glance prior to the attack? Would they, would I, would most of us have offered help or food or money or a kind word or even a smile to them in passing? I would hope so but I don’t know. Sure, some people might have but, sadly, I am afraid the answer for the vast majority is almost certainly not. Most people, had they even noticed them and had they even reacted in any way at all would probably have done little more than tut, pull their children closer, out of the way, kept on walking and thought no more about it. If anything, that’s all.

So there we have it and here’s my big question of the day. What was it about these men that made them so unapproachable beforehand that has now changed? What was it that meant so many people, had they seen them begging outside the Arena last week, would have just shaken their heads and crossed the road? How many would have failed to even acknowledge their existence? Far too many I’m afraid. And what’s changed? Why are we now giving them all the help we can? What has made the difference? Why is the before scenario and the after scenario so different? These guys are still homeless, still down on their luck, still in dire need of help. All that’s changed is that their kindness and humanity has been spotted and highlighted and brought to the world’s attention thanks to the events of Monday night. Nothing else, that’s it.

But surely that kindness and humanity and goodness was there before the bomb. It can’t have just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. All that’s changed is that it just wasn’t recognised due to the  predisposition we seem to have in assuming that the people who are on the street must have done something bad to deserve it.

Why do we think like that? Just because someone is homeless and destitute and begging does not make them bad and deserving of whatever has happened to them. Just because someone has somewhere nice to live and a well-paid job and plenty to eat and lovely holidays does not make them good. The truth is that the homeless guy round the corner is little more than one step away from having a job and their own home and, the guy next door with the house and car and salaried employment is just one step away from being on the streets. No-one knows what is just round the corner for any of us which could change our lives forever, one way or the or the other. ‘There for the Grace of God, go I’ has never been more apposite.

It’s a terrible indictment on our society that it’s taken this awful event for these two homeless heroes to get the help they are now getting. Why didn’t they get that help beforehand? What has actually changed? And, what about all the other homeless people in this country who weren’t there and who weren’t able to do anything to help? Are they going to miss out yet again? I would hope not. I would hope that, whenever we see someone who is down on their luck that we remember Steve and Chris, for those are their names, and try to do something, however little, to show that we care.

I, for one am certainly going to try to make sure I don’t pass by on the other side in future. A simple smile or a quick ‘hello’ won’t hurt me and it might help a homeless person feel like person again, it might even be the very thing that tips the scale and makes a real difference.

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I am getting entirely fed up with the number of adverts I am seeing on my TV for lotteries and, in particular, lotteries for charities.

Seemingly endless ways of people wanting to take my money for largely, no return.

RNIB, Poppy Lottery, Oxfam, Cancer Research, they’re all doing it. The list is never-ending.  

Why are these charities spending, what must be thousands, on this sort of TV advertising and why are they pandering to our ‘get rich quick’ society. Why re they trying to take our money for virtually nothing. Celebrities don’t do these ads for free, they charge, the TV companies showing the ads don’t air them for nothing, they are out to make a profit. £1 per week here, £1 per week there, for every pound spent on lotteries, that’s one less pound that could be spent on things more important things such as food, clothes, heating and lighting.

It all mounts up, there must be another way.

And, who are the people who spend money on lotteries, speculating on financial pipe-dreams? Is it the people at the top, the people with money to burn, the bankers, the politicians, the businessmen and women in the gilded skyscrapers of the City, the high rollers, the elite or is it the people at the bottom who just scraping by and who barely have enough for their daily living needs. The celebrities who are promoting these lotteries are unlikely to be buying their weekly ticket, the shareholders of the TV companies showing the ads are not dreaming of a big win, they already get that when their dividends are paid. A study in the USA in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 2012 found that ‘Those in the lowest fifth in terms of socioeconomic status (SES) had the “highest rate of lottery gambling (61%)’. It’s not the rich who are gambling away their money because that’s what it is, gambling, it’s the poor who have little enough disposable income as it is. I know that someone has to win and that some lucky people actually have, but the chances ‘It Could be You’ are vanishingly small.

Unlike the National Lottery, big-charity lottery players don’t even receive a ticket or have a thrill of anticipation, watching the balls being drawn live, checking their numbers off when the draw is made after yet another TV, get rich quick, game show. They don’t even know what their numbers are or which numbers have been drawn each week. Nothing to show for what they have spent. They just have the money taken out of their bank accounts, week in, week out for nothing more than an sophisticated raffle.

It all mounts up, there must be another way.

I know these charities do amazing things for their beneficiaries. I know they need to get their money from somewhere. Having worked for one of them I am fully aware of the great work that is being done, how much it costs and all the people who are being helped but, much of the time, the people paying out and buying the tickets are the very same people who are on the receiving end too. All too often the pound they spent on their ticket is going into the grants for good causes which they are using and benefiting from anyway.

Why not cut out the middlemen who are making and showing the ads and doing something else instead. If the celebrities, TV Companies and big businesses who have so much just gave just a little of it every year to Charities then we wouldn’t need the endless lotteries. And regular donations would be so much better and so much more helpful anyway. The big charities could still get their money and the smaller charities could still get their grants but there would be some certainty to the charity’s income. And the government could help too. Instead of giving tax-breaks to the rich they could give more of our tax money to the services that are currently being propped up by the charities operating lotteries.    

I’m not against people having fun or trying to dictate how people send their money but I do find the non-stop ‘it’s only a pound’ mantra more than a little cynical. Paying fifty pence on the raffle or the tombola at the church fete, school fair or country show, where players stand a reasonable chance of winning a box of chocolates or a bottle of bubbly is one thing but the big, national charity lotteries where your chance of winning anything meaningful are something else entirely.

It all mounts up, there must be another way.

Robin Hood robbed the rich to give to the poor but we appear to be robbing the poor to help the poor down the road whilst the rich sit in their ivory towers raking in the proceeds.

There has to be another way.

I want a job.

I really want a job.

The Government would be so happy if I could come off benefits and get a job.

I would be so happy if I could come off benefits and get  job.

There is only one impediment to this laudable ambition of theirs, and mine – I am severely disabled and stuck in bed most of the time, so, I am not able to go out to work, the work would have to come to me.

And this, apparently, is a major and seemingly insurmountable stumbling block.

But why? What’s the problem? Why can’t the work come to me? In this wonderfully technological day and age, with computers, video conferencing, telephone conferencing, Sype, the internet and even that strange new invention called the telephone, why do I have to go to a specific location, such as an office, city, or even country, in order to work? Is it really necessary for me to leave my home at all?

To be honest, that, as far as I am concerned anyway, is so last century. The experience I have and the roles I am qualified and extremely familiar with in a workplace can easily be done without having to move location at all. I am happy to admit that there are many, many jobs where the employee does have to be in a specific building or town or workplace in order to do what they are trained to do, such as a doctor, a bus driver, a postman, a prison officer, a supermarket cashier, a chef but, equally, there are many, many  roles which can be done from just about anywhere and no-one would know any difference.

Take me, for example. I, like many people, have the transferable skills which would allow me to be able to work, in my chosen profession, from anywhere. I’m not anything special or important or awe-inspiring, I have around twenty-five years experience in providing advice and information, on a variety of subjects, to disabled and older people. I did, or do this, by phone, email or in the form of advice leaflets, information sheets, magazines and current awareness bulletins which I have written, edited and published for national and regional organisations and charities in my area. And that’s it. That’s me. That’s what I do. But for some reason, all the employers who are looking for people who can do what I do, would want me to travel to them to do it.

Why?

In my last paid employment I was taking details of clients’ legal problems and booking them an appointment for a telephone advice session with a lawyer. Either that, or referring them elsewhere that may be more suitable for their needs or sending them an information leaflet that would, hopefully, answer their question. Nothing more complicated than that. So, what was there  which meant I had to travel to the other side of London on a noisy, smelly, crowded bus every day at crack-of-stupid in the morning and then fight my way back home again on the same buses, exhaused and frustrated in the evening? I have no idea. I could have done the exactly the same thing from the comfort of my living room and no-one would have been able to tell unless I felt the need to let them know.

And I’m not just guessing, I know this, from personal experience. At one point during my employment with the company I had to have an operation, which necessitated a lengthy recovery period. Essentially, my brain and abilities were unaffected, I just had to be careful and wait for the wound to heal and for the stitches to be removed. That was it. I wasn’t sick, just incapacitated. So, I had to stay home. And I was so bored and so fed up and I felt so useless. In desperation, I had a chat with my boss and, because he was forward thinking and had also had problems finding someone who could cover for me whilst I recuperated, we implemented a system whereby my office phone was linked to my home phone and the client database and advice rota were linked to my home computer and bingo, I could  continue with my work, uninterrupted. If someone rang in I would take the details of the issue, make notes about their case on our system, check the availability of our legal professionals and book an appointment for the client to get the advice they needed. Not only that, but I was able to undertake research for advice leaflets, write articles for the magazines I was responsible for and send the copy to the printer for publication and distribution. And, I didn’t have to move a muscle.

So why do we still have this preoccupation with having to work from somewhere special? Surely, having employees who work from home is beneficial to both employees and employers alike. Employees can work for anyone, anywhere, and so, can look for the job that is best for them, regardless, without having to move and the employer doesn’t have to pay for premises or heating or lighting or equipment for an expensive office building. Just make sure that employees have the things they may need to be able to work from home such as a computer, internet access and a phone line. Not only that, but they can employ anyone, from anywhere. They can employ the best possible person for the job regardless of where they are.     

It doesn’t sound too complicated to me.

I feel that we need to have a complete rethink about work and what work actually means in this country. We are in the technologically advanced, twenty-first century, not still stuck in the Victorian or Edwardian era. Why can’t employers, next time someone resigns or retires and leaves their business, look at the tasks that need to be done and really consider whether those tasks have to be done from an expensive office or if they can be undertaken by someone working remotely, from their own home? Adverts could be placed online, interviews could conducted by conference call and work could be done from anywhere. Bosses could check work is being done by looking at output and not by staring across their desk at  someone sitting at another desk on the other side of the room. Workers could feel trusted and valued. No-one needs to actually go or be anywhere. Happy employers, happy employees. What’s so bad about that? Telephonists answering the phone in their PJs? What’s the issue? The phone is being ansered regardless. Why not try it and see what happens?

Oh, and, if there are any amazing employers reading this, who would be happy to take a risk and employ a remote Advice and Information Officer, hiya! I’m here and waiting for your call!

Come on Bosses, take a step into the twenty-first century, be brave and go for it, you know it makes sense!

Why do successive Governments hate the voluntary sector so much?

Every year organisation after organisation is forced to close when their funding is withdrawn Organisations that have helped so many people are lost. During my working life I have been made redundant three times and, on every occasion, it has been due to the reduction of one charity or another’s means of support. Organisations that had, in one instance, been around for fifty years at the time of closure, gone forever.

My first experience of redundancy was when my local council withdrew the grants it paid to our Centre for Independent Living. An entire London borough, full of disabled people, who no longer had access to the support they needed. And half a dozen disabled people out of work. Me included.Then there was the disability organisation that had been serving the needs of all disabled Londoners for fifty years. Funding stopped. Disabled people in our nation’s capital left unsupported and another ten disabled employees thrown on the scrapheap. Me included. My most recent experience of redundancy was when the national organisation I worked for than helped and supported disabled people with legal issues was almost forced to close as well. Even more disabled people out of work. Me included. Thankfully, the organisation is still in existence but it’s size has diminished dramatically.   

And now, an organisation that means a lot to one of my children is under threat. So much so that my child has created an online petition to try to save it. This time it is a charity which supports LGBT victims of domestic violence nationwide. Over the past financial year it has helped over 10,000 service users,  People who would have found it significantly more difficult to access the support they need at a crucial and terrifying time in their lives.  

What is going on? What is the problem? Why is the Government doing this? Why are they taking away the money these organisations need so much and causing, at the very least, service reductions but, in many instances, closures and yet more redundancies. Anyone would think they were frightened. Anyone would think that these charities were some sort of threat to someone. Anyone would think that someone wants to restrict their activities. All these organisations all have one thing in common. They are all organisations which have challenged or are continuing to challenge local and national governmental actions and policies towards minority groups. Disabled people, LGBT people. Both groups of individuals who experience, almost daily, discrimination. Both groups of people who need help, advice and protection.

This week it has been revealed that the Cabinet Office has announced a new clause in grant agreements which will ban charities and other organisations that receive Government grants from using that money to lobby Government and Parliament about issues concerning the groups they support. Why? Could it be because the Government is fully aware that what they are doing is going to hurt people,make their lives so much more difficult and, in some instances, dangerous. Maybe even life threatening. What does it take for this Government to ensure that all citizens are supported, not just the wealthy few. Charity can be defined as the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need. This Government, and successive Governments over the past three or four decades, seem to have forgotten this and, instead, seem to see our organisations as easy targets. If you don’t want us to fight you, stop proposing and passing legislation which will cause discrimination, violence and harm to the people who are least able to do anything about it without help. Listen to us when we tell you what we need and then we might thank you and not have to challenge you at every turn.

To support ‘Broken Rainbow’, please read and sign the petition at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/120828. Thank you.