Charitable basket cases

I think I may have compassion fatigue. Can you get tablets for it, I wonder?

For a couple of months or more, I’ve been counting down the days to a short, much needed holiday next week – the only break we will get this year. My wife and I make no bones about the fact that our “day jobs” bore us to tears, and we only suffer them because there is nothing else. People ask why we have never tried to get a public or voluntary sector job, then look puzzled because we burst out laughing.

The thing is, those who ask share the odd delusion that the people who manage Manx public sector departments are educated liberals, and that those who run the charities which feed off them are similarly fair minded…..

(… the bang you may have heard was me falling off a chair, and if I can stop laughing I may discover a broken rib. Must stop doing that.)

On coming to the island in 1983 I was turned down for two voluntary sector jobs working with young people – for one of which I was the only applicant, as the entire project was based on free and friendly advice I’d given the founders over the course of the previous two years (having been introduced to them by my parents). For that job it was because I would not declare myself a Christian, for the other (with the local branch of a well known UK children’s charity, where again I was the only qualified and experienced applicant), it was because the interviewers thought that any man unmarried by 25 must be gay, and therefore, in their sadly addled minds, a paedophile. I then rendered myself unemployable by any other branch of the Manx social services or their bottom feeders until at least 1991 with a letter to the papers in which I mildly suggested that homosexuality should no longer be a crime.

Similarly, shortly after coming here my wife applied for a government job teaching English as a Foreign Language, and received a reply saying they wanted a native speaker. This reply, by the way, was full of basic spelling and grammatical errors.

As a joke, she sent it to our old friends at the English Language department of a Hungarian university. This prize example of Manx government correspondence is now used as a first year exercise for new students to whom English will be at least their second (often third or fourth) language.

It’s regarded as particularly funny because, unlike 99% of Manx people, such students and their tutors know that one of their core text books was written by a Manxman, Randolph Quirk. Mind you, along with his equally well known Manx classmate, the English literary critic Frank Kermode, he left the island for university in the late 1940’s and never came back. So you thought the Manx brain drain started in the 1980’s?

I could go on ad nauseam to list incidences of routine Manx government and charitable organisation racism, sexism and general stupidity me and my better half have encountered since, but is there any point?

Which for employment purposes leaves only the finance sector, where the joke is that, whatever the other faults, nobody cares what race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or class you are from as long as you can do the job faster, cheaper and more efficiently than competing firms. Fact – I work daily with female, gay, Asian, Indian or even Middle Eastern and black African managers who are astonishingly clever, dedicated and effective at running billion dollar enterprises, yet they also could not land a junior job in the kind of public sector drain the taxable income they generate (i.e. almost all Manx tax money) goes down.

Of course, knowing what incidental damage your clients may do to the world we have a moral dilemma, which we solve by doing only what we must while showing no initiative which might save such clients money or open up new opportunities. Then we go home and try and salve our consciences with good works, which is even more frustrating.

The root of the problem is something which a fellow worker on a well known pacifist magazine outlined to me back in 1978, (at the time, that magazine was embroiled in a rather famous official secrets trial, which, to be fair, may also have affected my public sector employment prospects). This is that people who set up charities, radical campaigns and community projects never ask the only important question, which is “How are you going to put yourself out of business?” In other words, how will you solve the problem you set up the project to deal with?

The funniest thing is that he was taught to ask this question in his previous employment, as an RAF technician, while the worst example of a failure to ask it, years later, might be Tony Blair embarking on a Gulf War without an exit strategy.

Put like that, it seems an obvious question, and perhaps the most well meaning but naive could be forgiven for overlooking it. But they are only a small part of the problem. The bigger problem is disaster careerists, for whom the explanation and “solution” is just an excuse for action they have decided to take anyway because…. well…. it keeps them in a cosy job.

I really got to grips with the wider implication of this in Belfast in the early 1980’s while working for a small arts group. The thing is, Northern Ireland at the time was being flooded with UK money for charitable schemes in order to keep society going.

Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Services ran a workshop to help small charities apply for public funding and also fundraise more effectively from the general public. They were absolutely blunt about the reason for the workshop, which was that there was only a limited budget for either and that major charities, run by career professionals, quite ruthlessly regarded it as a market from which they would first drive all small fry before wiping each other out if necessary.

Sod the powerless who, in theory, these professionals are there to help. Victims are a marketing tool, an excuse for funding, a lifetime job complete with a final salary pension, and nothing else.

The other aspect of this was the approach of the two allegedly warring communities. The Republican hard line was that anything that hurt the British state economically was good, so claim benefits, don’t seek work, and don’t pay taxes (including indirect ones like TV licences). The unofficial Unionist one (at least via the respectable front of their churches) was that if public funding for dubious “community projects” could be claimed for “church workers” on “bridge-building schemes” (a poor joke, given that such churches were the main conduit for sectarian hatred) then grab as much as possible.

In time, this led to an entire generation of sectarian bigots learning how the system worked and moving from one government funded “temporary” scheme to another without ever evolving or changing their daily routine. Effectively, most of the evangelical movement in Northern Ireland was underwritten by UK tax money for two decades, and the gravy train was only stopped by the peace process.

And the Manx link to this is that as the peace process became inevitable, rather than possible, people who had learnt to milk the system moved here and cleaned up in a society where the politicians and civil servants were not even clued up enough to ask basic questions. Yes, those very village idiots who thought that homosexuality and paedophilia are one and the same thing, and that kiddie-fiddlers never go to church.

So eventually, to take but two Manx examples,the irony is that the worst cause of homelessness is a homelessness charity, and the reason older people do not have access to social services is the charity nominally intended to take over a government duty to provide them.

As an angry disabled friend used to say to me, “Charities are always run by such helpful people. In fact, they will do anything to help you except get off your back and stop using you as an excuse for an OBE or a pay-check.”

And as I quipped to friends when one of these evangelical atrocities first appeared, what we now need are charities to protect the vulnerable from Manx charities. In a few nicer cases, it is simply the cluelessness of the over-privileged simpletons who can choose to work for them. But increasingly, there is nothing innocent in such malpractice.

Meanwhile, take it as a rule of thumb that whenever they deign to give “guidance” on how the public can help victims of social problems (of which their ignorance and opportunism are major causes), then the only sane and humane thing to do is the exact opposite.

And for the sake of your own sanity, to have fun doing it.


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