Swans Commentary » swans.com November 4, 2013  



The Austerity Of Charity


by Michael Barker



"As never before, public and charitable institutions have been utilized as a sop, but the breadlines grow longer and increase in number. The U.S. government has declined to do anything directly to provide work or compensation for the unemployed, but instead continues to talk of industrial revival, while jobs become scarcer each day. All sorts of proposals have been forthcoming from capitalist politicians for public works, etc., but all remain on paper."
—Martin Abern, 1930.


(Swans - November 4, 2013)   Ex-Barclays scammer Bob Diamond loves to help the needy; be that children who have found themselves impoverished by his own, and his colleagues, profiteering, or for Republican presidential nominees like Mitt Romney. This explains why he is a favoured trustee of Boris Johnson's Mayor's Fund for London -- a poverty relief program reliant upon the beneficence of the very same corporations who ensure systemic poverty via their dedication to both tax avoidance and exploitation. According to their Web site, Boris's Fund works "to ensure that young Londoners living in disadvantaged areas are on the path to a decent job." How nice: I wonder though if their definition of "decent" includes jobs paying a living wage in workplaces that recognize trade unions?

Although Mr. Diamond was initially meant to act as the founding chairman of the Mayor's Fund -- launched in early 2009 -- in the end he pulled back from committing, citing a hectic schedule, which allowed another well-known businessman, Sir Trevor Chinn, to fills his wealthy shoes. Now 78 years old and still dedicated to serving on the front line of the class war, Sir Chinn is a senior advisor to a private equity firm known as CVC Capital Partners -- a firm that includes Atos board member Bertrand Meuier among their various managing partners. Very much related to this Atos connection, CVC Capital Partners owns a controlling stake in Virgin Active (Richard Branson's chain of fitness outlets), which is ironic given the role that Atos plays in literally performing health miracles on the disabled via their disgusting "assessments" that are incorrectly reclassifying disabled people as fit for work. (For more on Branson's pioneering efforts to destroy the NHS, see "Labour Used Virgin 'Restricted' Report to Open NHS to Healthcare Companies.")

As of February last year the chair of the Mayor's Fund for London has been Paulette Rowe, a senior executive at Bob Diamond's alma mater, Barclays. Another stand-out fat-cat trustee of the Mayor's Fund for London is Harvey McGrath, who is the chairman of another slickly-packaged philanthropic enterprise going by the unlikely moniker The Heart of the City, a group ostensibly created "to mobilise the City [of London]'s resources towards its neighbouring and less privileged communities." Needless to say, McGrath is a very, very rich man whose day job involves his acting as an advisor to the "caring" capitalists at Bridges Ventures (see later), having arrived at this desirous position at The Heart of the City just last December when he replaced Sir Gerry Acher, the former UK head of corporate finance at tax-evasion advisers KPMG.

The corporate chief executive of the Mayor's Fund for London is Matthew Patten, who is the former boss of M&C Saatchi Sponsorship (one of Europe's leading sponsorship consultancies). Patten is also an executive committee member of London Funders -- which describes itself as a "membership organisation of funders and investors in London's voluntary as a community sector." Until earlier this year London Funders was headed by Gaynor Humphreys (the former director of the Community Foundation Network), and it is now run by a man much concerned with the mistreatment of animals called David Warner. Warner, having formerly served as the chief executive of the National Animal Welfare Trust, had prior to that shown equal concern for humans as the director of Homeless Network (which is now know as Homeless Link), although this concern for the vulnerable of course does not extend to his voicing public outrage about the government's ongoing attacks on London's poorest citizens, or the homeless for that matter. The same bizarre lack of socialist principles is evident in committed social worker Dominic Fox, who can boast of being a former head of the National Homeless Alliance (the other group which along with the Homeless Network merged to form Homeless Link). Fox went on to become a founding trustee of London Funders, is currently the chief executive of the Association of Charitable Organisations, and is a long-standing trustee of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

But, of course, just because the rich are organized in their charitable endeavours does not mean they are not as committed to exploiting the poor (and the not-so-poor, for that matter). So it is that the chairman of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Martyn Lewis CBE, finds himself in the position of being the president of United Response -- a disability charity that says its mission is to help "enable people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and physical disabilities to take control of their lives," taking control being apparently related to being coerced into participating in archaic slave labour-like workfare schemes. This being the case because United Response is part of the controversial Disability Works UK consortium, which just last year eagerly embraced the government's vile workfare scheme. With regard to the work of this consortium, The Guardian newspaper noted: "When it comes to workfare, charities risk becoming part of the problem, not the solution"; with the newspaper unhelpfully overlooking the fact that the former chairman of the Guardian Media Group, financier Lord Paul Myners, serves as a dedicated vice president of United Response. But contrary to the opinion voiced in The Guardian, it is definitely not a new turn of events that the board rooms of British charities are dominated by those who caused society's problems!

Another prime example of this Orwellian doublespeak is provided by Dame Julia Cleverdon, who in addition to offering her services to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (as a trustee) acts as a member of the so-called sustainability board of the notorious NHS profiteer Carillion. She is also a former head of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales' very own "corporate responsibility" outfit, Business in the Community, and has recently been appointed as a special adviser to The Prince's Charities. The Prince, of course, is old-school in his belief in the mythical magic of capitalism. So as well as railing against the "ills" of modernity and promoting the ills of homoeopathy, the Prince has long been a dedicated evangelist of the wonders of the voluntary sector as a corporate-friendly alternative to a progressive (he would say restrictive) and redistributive system of taxation.

To give a further taste of the type of corporate leaders chosen to oversee the work of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations one need only look at the example of their former president, Lord Robin Hodgson: a man who is now employed at FF&P Private Equity, a highly exploitative firm run by Eaton-educated Adam Fleming and his fellow gold mining profiteer-in-arms, Lord Renwick of Clifton. Or take Ben Kernighan, the recent deputy chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who in addition to serving as a trustee of the Prince's Business in the Community, has just joined the right-wing-led National Union of Students as their latest chief executive. Here, on top of Kernighan's de rigour commitment to institutionalizing aid provision to the homeless (he is a former trustee of the Earls Court Homeless Families Project), in recent years Kernighan has also been a board member of Futurebuilders -- a charitable project set up in 2002, which is now being managed by the Social Investment Business Group, which touts itself as the UK's largest social investor.

In many ways such charitable social investment groups serve the ruling class as a vital means of covering the personal, usually very exploitative, business practices of the super-rich under a veil of humanitarian rhetoric; a case in point being provided by Social Investment Business Group trustee Carolyn Aitchison, who is a former managing director at both Morgan Stanley and the Blackstone Group (both corporations being well-established social leeches). Furthermore, such charities serve as critical networking vehicles for the ruling class, which explains the close and overlapping connections between the ever-growing number of groups seeking to convince an increasingly impoverished population that they can and should act as the conscience of capitalism. In this way, individuals like Caroline Forster can be found residing in the board room of London Funders at the same time as playing a leading role in running the Social Investment Business Group; while others, like Sam Dowling, previously worked developing policy for the Social Investment Business Group, is likewise a board member of London Funders. Another prime example is provided by the chief executive of the Social Investment Business Group, Jonathan Jenkins, who came to this role after acting as the director of ventures at UnLtd -- The Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs (for more on this foundation's background see "Big Society Charity: Capitalist Philanthropy in the UK").

Geraldine Peacock is yet another unrepentant advocate of the nonsense that is "responsible capitalism," who in her charitable life has served as the former chair of both Futurebuilders and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (acevo). (Note: the chief executive of acevo is healthcare privateer Sir Stephen Bubb, a trustee of the Social Investment Business Group.) Amongst Peacock's many services rendered to the profit motive she presently sits on the board for social enterprise at Harvard Business School and on the Said Business School board at Oxford University. Peacock is also a trustee of Social Finance, an organization that proudly "injects market principles into funding" the charitable sector. Moreover, she was a founding member of the Social Investment Task Force, which was established at the request of HM Treasury in April 2000; another notable member of this Task Force being former Financial Times editor, Andrew Gowers, the individual who led the BP's propaganda campaign during the totally unavoidable oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Social Investment Task Force itself was chaired by none other than the father of private equity, Sir Ronald Cohen, who more recently oversaw the creation of the Tory's brand-spanking new community financing initiative Big Society Capital. Sir Cohen is also the founding chairman of so-called socially motivated private equity group Bridges Ventures. Although he no longer serves as Bridges chair, he does head up their board of advisers, where he works alongside the likes of Harvey McGrath, who as noted at the start of this article is the chairman of Heart of the City and a trustee of the Mayor's Fund for London.

Capitalism will never meet the needs of the many, most especially because its raison d'être is to exploit the lives of the many to meet the insatiable needs of the very few. Under this insane system, those capitalists who profit handsomely from the hard labour of the majority have a clear vested interest in attempting to deceive the rest of us into believing that the systemic and tragic failures built into capitalism can be corrected by charitable handouts. Yet such a dire state of affairs leaves the well being of billions in the hands of our exploiters... not a particularly desirous state of affairs. This is why the fight for socialism is so important. What the ruling class hates most of all is any form of democratic redistribution of their ill-gotten wealth: which is precisely why they privatise our public services and fight tooth-and-nail to demolish our hard-fought-for welfare state. Once these pesky remnants of socialist activism have been confined to the dustbin of history, capitalists dream of revelling in the soon to be born-again charitable utopia of yesteryear -- which last manifested itself in the glory days of exploitation in the nineteenth century.

Charities may help the poor, that is without doubt; but the question remains, why do we have so many people who need such charity in the first place? The answer staring us in the face lies within the capitalist system itself. Charities are not a replacement for a system of progressive taxation (under capitalism) nor for socialism itself. Thus the task before all of us is to work to lay for the groundwork that will enable democracy to flourish and for capitalism to whither. A good starting point in this regard might be a mass show of strength through a 24-hour general strike... who knows where we will go from there.


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Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published November 4, 2013