By Stephen Glover
What a cheek! Ministers, who tax us to death, now want cashpoints to urge us to give money to charity
As the new year approaches we read the depressing news that the average worker will hand over every penny he earns to the Inland Revenue for the first five months of 2011.
In 2010 we had to toil until May 27 before being permitted to put any money in our own pockets. In 2011, according to the Adam Smith Institute, it will be May 30 before we begin working for ourselves.
Admittedly, this is slightly better than the worst year of the last decade, 2006, when we had to keep slaving away until June 4.
Still, May 30 is bad enough, and I fear that more and more of the balmy days of June will be sacrificed to the taxman before the Chancellor feels able to toss a few crusts in our direction. We will just have to grin and bear it, I suppose.
But the news that the Government is planning to ask us to give to charity every time we use a cash dispenser or pay with a bank card is very hard to swallow.
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude says the idea is not an attempt to ‘compel’ people but to promote the ‘Big Society’ championed by David Cameron.
Naturally, I am entirely in favour of giving as much as possible to deserving causes, and only wish I was a better person and gave more. But it does seem an infernal cheek for the Government to be squeezing us as it is — Vat rises from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent from January 4 — while thinking up additional ways of milking us.
There you are, standing in front of a cash dispenser, which warns you that you are perilously close to your credit limit. A queue is building up behind. The rain is lashing around you. And then the machine attempts to inveigle you into donating an amount to charity so that you can feel you are helping along Mr Cameron’s Big Society — whatever that mysterious creature may be.
Presumably the intention is to make you feel so guilty that you will start pressing buttons with abandon. It would have the opposite effect on me, and I suspect on many others.
Whenever a charity sends me an unsolicited present such as a pen and asks for money, I throw it into the wastepaper basket. I don’t like being bribed or blackmailed.
Moreover, I won’t relish being asked to give to ‘charity’ under Mr Maude’s proposal. (Actually, it may be the brainchild of Steve Hilton, Mr Cameron’s guru, who pioneered a similar scheme in a restaurant he co-owned.)
There are excellent charities and middling charities and bad charities. There are some I approve of, and others I don’t. Some are blatantly political and spend more on overheads than they should, while others run a commendably threadbare operation.
Without the queue at the cash dispenser growing a mile long, I don’t see how people will be able to specify the particular cause they favour among some 170,000 registered British charities. All donations will presumably go into a general pot to be distributed by the Government, as it or its agents see fit.
And this brings me to the core of my objection to this scheme. I don’t believe that governments should have anything to do with charities, other than to regulate them, and ensure that bogus ones are shut down.
It would be cheering if we were the most charitable race on earth but that will not happen as a result of ministerial exhortation. Francis Maude suggested yesterday that people should give one per cent of their income to charities, which he says would generate another £4 billion a year. Many will regard this as a demanding and lamentably out-of-touch proposal at a time when they are struggling under the effect of cuts and declining incomes.
The Coalition is apparently trying to appropriate a whole realm of activity that is not its business. It is not the role of government to urge us to donate something or nothing to charity. We give what we want to give, not because a minister says we should.
Yet, believe it or not, a sizeable donation from a cash dispenser or a bank card transaction may attract an official letter of thanks from a minister, perhaps the great Mr Maude himself, as though the donor had been of some service to the Coalition — almost as though he had done it for the Coalition.
Nonetheless, the official line is one of shifting some of the burden from the State to the voluntary sector, as well as encouraging what is called ‘localism’ (another meaningless word in a nation where central government still controls virtually all spending). It is therefore alarming to see the Coalition planning to clasp the private charity sector closer to itself, as though it were an arm of government which should serve David Cameron’s visionary (though to me still utterly incomprehensible) Big Society.
My prediction is that, if this policy goes ahead in anything like its intended form, many people will feel they are being taken advantage of, and may end up by giving less to charity, not more. The more closely a high-taxing government which is cutting public expenditure is identified with charities, the worse they may do.
I repeat: if the Coalition really wishes to encourage more generous donations to charities, the best thing it could do would be to lessen the burden of taxation, as well as offering more generous tax breaks to donors and recipients.
Doubtless intended to please his new master, this proposal to skim donations off cash machine and bank card transactions will be seen by many as another example of the Government’s remoteness from the lives of ordinary people.