How to save charities
Sir: The sexual abuse scandal is merely one aspect of the morally compromised status of large charities such as Oxfam (‘The dark side of charity’, 17 February). Oxfam receives a large part of its income from the government, which necessarily makes it a delivery agency for the state. It spends a proportion of its income on political campaigns, often critical of the same government from which it gets money and on whose behalf it acts. The self-serving hypocrisy of biting the hand that feeds it seems not to bother its senior management.
Oxfam and others also rely on many small donations, often from people of modest means. Others work — for free — in their shops. The money thus raised is used, in part, to pay six-figure salaries to the charities’ senior managers. The chief executive of Oxfam earns as much as many government ministers and substantially more than most people could ever dream of. The sense of entitlement exhibited by such professional charity managers is more exploitative than charitable.
If the ‘third sector’ is to recover its honour, it needs to be truly independent of government funding and its managers need to show a personal commitment to charity. Anyone who wants to earn a commercially competitive salary should work in a commercially competitive environment.
They’re not all bad
Sir: Harriet Sergeant’s criticism of aid hits the mark for many overseas charities, but there is a risk here of tarring many worthy organisations with the same brush.
There is a branch of international aid which seeks to support the development of local economies through investing in the recipient country’s entrepreneurs. At the smaller end, there are microfinance organisations which provide ambitious entrepreneurs, especially women, with small loans to create life-transforming businesses. There are also various forms of so-called venture philanthropy, where investments are made into local businesses or UK/American businesses that are developing transformative products; for example, sanitary products or clean energy devices which are especially designed for the unique difficulties of rural life in Africa or elsewhere. Unlike Oxfam and other aid charities which seek to provide open-ended support and, in many senses, trap people in poverty, these organisations attempt to do the exact opposite. By supporting the creation of vibrant economies abroad, the UK will be able to benefit from trade in the future. When we use the term ‘international aid charities’, let us remember that that is a broad umbrella term, and many see the world differently to Oxfam.
Sir: I was Canadian high commissioner to Malaysia ten years ago. At that time the Royal Commonwealth Society surveyed the Commonwealth about what we needed to do to ensure success (The Spectator’s Notes, 17 February). The survey found that many believed the Commonwealth to be too British, too London-centric, and too dominated by the UK and the old ‘white’ dominions (which pay 90 per cent of the operating budget). Even the fact that the secretariat is housed in Marlborough House was found to be objectionable for its symbolism.
That brings us to the question of whether the Prince of Wales should or could succeed his mother the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth. On the surface he is an obvious and acceptable choice. But given the feeling among many of the citizens of the Commonwealth, at least according to the previously mentioned survey, do the people want a British royal to follow the Queen?
This will need to be very delicately handled indeed, as Charles Moore suggests. Perhaps the answer is a rotating presidency without the symbolism of a royal head.
David B. Collins
Hartley Wintney, Hampshire
A long, long evening
Sir: Thank you, Lloyd Evans (‘Torture in the stalls’, 17 February). I saw Long Day’s Journey for the first time a few years ago, in a production much praised by the critics. It was terrible, a tedious ‘waffle-festival’, exactly as he says. The audience, grey of hair and stiff of spine, clapped politely but my main feeling was anger at being duped.
Maybe this play was radical and challenging in its time, but it should have been filed away as a historic curiosity long ago. That theatres won’t put it out of its misery matters. Any young person going to the theatre for the first time in the expectation of seeing a great 20th-century play and having to endure this would very likely be put off theatre for life. After all, for the price of one theatre ticket they could buy nearly a year’s subscription to Netflix.
Sir: Contrary to Matthew Parris’s figures (‘There is no housing shortage’, 10 February), government statistics show that last year there were 154,220 new-build completions compared with 246,000 net migrants, the latter being far down and the former up on previous years, suggesting that over a long period there have been significantly fewer homes built than people coming into the country. Along with rising divorce rates, the demand for housing has increased drastically and prices have followed. Mr Parris asks for a free market answer, and I suggest making it more of a free market. As with most things, it is government interference in planning, taxation and incentives that has had adverse consequences. The freeing up of greenbelt land on the edge of cities where the infrastructure can cope and people want to live would work wonders.