Saturday, November 18, 2006

Justice Not Charity

This is the longest posting I have done to date but please bear with me.

'This is not a charity issue, it is a justice issue' - these words of Bono are often used to inspire campaigners to rid the world of extreme poverty.

I don’t often read newspapers but today I read an article in the Daily Mail. The headline was ‘So rich you want to slap them.’

The article sub heading says;

‘The City (London) is awash with obscene amounts of money but the men who work there are too busy to spend it. So meet the wives who throw £1 million birthday parties and go shopping by private jet.’

The next article I read was how thousands of older people in Britain with early dementia are unable to have a drug that costs £2.50 per day because the government cannot afford it.

Next there was an article about how Romanian orphans are still in orphanages (76,000 children) almost 20 years after the discovery of the scandal of inhumane living conditions for children in care under the Nicolae Ceausescu regime. It seems things are better but still far away from meeting the aspirations of those who had a vision to eliminate poverty in the new democracy in Romania.

Then I reflected about how I was told earlier this year that 20,000 people die every day – mostly children – entirely due to extreme poverty.

Please don't misunderstand. I am not a spoilsport or a party pooper. I am a great fan of individuals in business pushing themselves to get on and make a real difference.

But I have to voice my concern that something is surely wrong when we have such obscene wealth and extreme poverty on the same planet that is given to us free.

Maybe I am an idealist. Maybe fairness means there will always be extremes.

I would rather believe that we can all do something by keeping these issues in the spotlight and shaming us into doing something if indeed shaming is the only way.

Maybe I am just in a particularly reflective mood but look at some of the extracts from the article about ‘obscene wealth’ and ask yourself whether we can justify this sort of thing whilst there is such suffering in many parts of the world including on our own doorstep in Britain;

  • ‘Back at home his mother picked up the telephone to call her project manager to enquire waspishly on the progress of the family’s plans for a basement swimming pool, paid for with her banker husband’s latest £1 million bonus.’

  • ‘A record 4200 City high-fliers will collect bonuses worth more than £1 million each in the next few weeks – 40 per cent more than last year.’

  • ‘Forget the £1 million home - £2 million is the norm for these people. For £5 million you will get a property with a bit of class, £10 million for real luxury. For a London home with a large garden that pretends it is in the country investment bankers and hedge fund managers think nothing of spending £20 million plus.’

  • ‘Major players in the City are taking home as much as £75 million per year.’

  • ‘These extremely glamorous women will employ an average of ten people to help them keep an immaculate home, look wonderful, take care of their stressed husband’s needs and bring up the children.’

  • ‘Michael Spencer’s wife Lorraine organised a party for his 50th birthday at their St Tropez mansion hiring Robbie Williams at a reported £1 million to sing to 300 guests’’

There are many more extracts but I think you probably get my point by now.


Anonymous said...

Hi Trevor

I was told recently there there is a bit in a recent autobiography of a current England footballer, where the player concerned (well, his ghost-writer) recounts the occasion when he had to pull his car over in a lay-by to calm his anger after receiving a phone call from his agent to say that his wage would be £50,000 a week, when he had been 'promised' £60,000 a week. We are supposed to share in his anger and sense of betrayal, apparently, rather than thinking he is a greedy prat who has lost all contact with reality!

Is he happy?!! Clearly not. It would seem that the problem for those who judge their lives solely on material wealth and outward shows of it will never reach the point where enough will be enough, because there will always be those who have more...or even worse those who have less and still seem happier with their lives. So maybe if you have a £2 million house and your friend has a £5 million house you will feel poor and inadequate.In the meantime, as you rightly say Trevor, there are those who wake up each morning not knowing if they will eat that day or survive that week. The difference is 'obscene' indeed.

Anonymous said...

A very good blog article Trevor, but the article regarding Romanian orphans you read Trevor must be well out of date or they have got their figures badly wrong. The figure of 76.000 children doesn’t bear out with reality as the real figures show less than 10 times this amount of children classed as real orphans in real terms in Romania.
Sadly the American and European press has this year reported some unreal articles about Romania and this is because there are foreign business influences wanting to re open inter country adoptions, which are banned in Romania.

I am British, but have for the past 12 years been here in Romania, were I undertake Humanitarian voluntary work, so speak with experience as I work at ground level as well as in childcare& educational programs in collaboration with the Authorities here.

To bring you up to date on the situation in real terms within the country Trevor, I can explain that in the past few years Romania has undertaken very bold childcare reforms. Thousands of the children who were in state care are now re integrated with their parents or relatives, proving they were not even true orphans in the first place! Secondly for children unable to be at home for various reasons there is a full Foster care system here in Romania, just as in all of Europe and USA were children have a Foster Mother and Father and live in small well equipped group homes. Romania also has advanced since the ban on inter country adoptions with national adoptions were a Romanian family can adopt a child in need, if perhaps its parents have passed away and there are no relatives. In reality the Romania of today is a far cry from that of the terrible Ceaucescu era thank goodness and here children now benefit from full Children’s Rights too.
There are still areas to be worked on in childcare as in many countries, I do not deny this Trevor but in reality Romania is far ahead of its former Eastern Bloc neibours in this important domain.

Poverty is of course a different question and I agree that this area that affects the lives of millions of people around the globe today needs serious attention. I know that there are for instance large pockets of poverty in the UK and have been so for years.
I found your article interesting and thought provoking. I look forward to future articles.

Trevor Gay said...

I agree with you tomjam – nothing surprises me about footballers although I love football. I wonder how much of this is to do with agents as much as the players themselves. It really is becoming scandalous that footballers earn as much money as they do. If the figures we mere mortals hear about are believed then 12 weeks wages makes some of them millionaires – that is just crazy.

I am sure the money is not making these same people happier. I think often of Robbie Williams who suffers depression regularly as do many other high profile folks. I am not suggesting that is to do with money but having money certainly does not equate to happiness obviously.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks for correcting me Brian – the article was in Saturday’s Daily Mail – just goes to show we must not always believe what we read in the press. Why do I never learn that?

Congratulations and well done for all the work you are doing – it is fantastic when people do something practical. It is fabulous that children are getting back to families and I hope you are very proud of your contribution to this. It is great to hear Romania is ‘ahead of the game’ compared with their neighbours

The issue of poverty and social suffering are entwined in many ways and yes of course there are pockets of real poverty in the UK. I guess my main concern is what I see as the obscenity of individuals having so much money they just cannot spend it. Surely the ‘conscience option’ is therefore RADICAL GIVING as advocated by Nicky Gumbel.

I thank you for finding the time to read my Simplicity Blog and for your kind comments. I hope you may re-visit.

Anonymous said...

To follow up the comment about ROMANIAN CHILDREN, I can confirm there are only about 30,000 children in Romanian institutions, not the 76,000 you reported. I actually challenged the journalist, Bob Graham, who made this statement in the Daily Mail, and he said the newspaper made this mistake. Actually, Romania has made great progress regarding the reform of its child welfare system and infants are no longer being institutionalised (they are sent to foster)

Trevor Gay said...

Thank you again for pointing out the error in the numbers quoted in the Daily Mail article. It is refreashing to hear of the progress being made in Romania.