Monday, July 30, 2007

Militant charity shops?

We went round Morley's Charity Shops at the weekend, Karen looking for clothes, David looking for Annuals, me looking for Media (books, CDs, DVDs, Singles etc.).

Morley is well served by Charity shops, there being at least half a dozen, both national and local. Some retailers, however, have expressed annoyance to me on occasions, as some of them sell certain new goods in semi-direct competition (items like cards, flowers and branded goods). When I have pointed out that competition is healthy, they generally grouse that the shops don't pay business rates so their cost base is much lower. (They don't have to pay most of the assistants either as they are volunteers but the retailers don't have an answer for that).

Shopping in charity shops is normally a benign experience but I have noticed two trends that I don't really like. The first one is social- shoplifting seems to be a problem in charity shops as well as everywhere else and many of the changing rooms have implemented systems for tracking the number of items in and out. (All shoplifting is wrong of course but robbing a charitable concern seems particularly low, it is not as though the prices are high, except in perhaps Harrogate).

The other one is the in your face approach some charities seem to adopt to fund raising and campaigning. Many of the shops were actively encouraging Gift Aid and I hate to think what army of volunteers and Civil Servants are kept busy validating my 99p video.

I recently joined Diabetes UK and the week after I sent off a cheque for £400 in fund raising I was called by a "TeleChugger" (made up word, but it fits the bill) who tried very hard to persuade me to sign up to small ongoing Direct Debit payments. I'm made of sterner stuff to get suckered by cold callers but I imagine lots of people would feel pressurised into agreeing to it as a few quid a month doesn't sound much and after all, they are a charidee...

Britain used to have a great tradition of charitable giving from all social levels (most of the NHS started off as charitable organisations) but the Welfare State kicked the soul out of it. We still have some outstanding organisations like the RNLI who still do what they say on the tin, but some others seem more intent on getting money from the Government for their work or indeed campaigning at the trough of state influence through the relentless process of scope creep from the founding fathers' visions.

Speaking of Scope (with a capital S, formerly the Spastic Society), their shop had huge posters about their "Time to get equal" campaign, which I think has actually been and gone, at least the week of action has. It also had many signs decrying something they call disablism. (I had to look it up, I'd not heard of it before). Something felt not right about this, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Getting my head round it afterwards with a trawl around on the web pulled up a good article by Tom Shakespeare on the BBC Disability website- Ouch! which voiced and reflected my concerns. The campaign actually makes much more interesting reading than the hectoring tone of the shop slogans. Maybe it is because we are British- we don't want our Churches making a fuss, and perhaps we don't like our charities doing it either! Is polite indifference no longer acceptable, do we have to care about everything?

There are a massive number of different disabilities and no one person can realistically grasp the specific needs that an individual has without making assumptions, frequently wrong ones! The person who I knew the best with a serious disability was my Father who was mostly wheelchair bound in the last five years of his life. he was, however, strongly against compulsion in the need to make everywhere retrospectively "disabled friendly", regarding it as a socialist plot to put small businesses out of business and get everyone working in the public sector. (He had seen Reds in the Bed everywhere throughout my formative years!) I have always had the view that it makes good business sense to make any enterprise as accessible as possible to customers and that people should be hired for what they can do, not what they are.
The only type of "ism" I approve of has the word "individual" in front of it...


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Good post, Shades. I'd never even imagined that people would steal from charity shops! - How despicable. But I do hate being "forced" into anything: in Cardiff there used to be a man collecting for a brain damaged children's society [I'm sure that's a politically incorrect description] and he just wouldn't leave anyone alone. I would point out to him that, by law, he shouldn't approach people directly, but he would keep on and on, making everyone who couldn't or didn't wish to give feel guilty. I'm sure he had very good reasons for feeling so strongly but people have to have a CHOICE in giving - otherwise it isn't giving. And, as you say, there are people who really CAN'T afford to give who just get bamboozled into it. That's wrong, particularly when they, themselves, are vulnerable.

Have a good blog break !

Shades said...

Thanks, Welshcakes. I was a bit twitchy about putting this post up because I'm now rather wary of intolerant caring types but then I remembered James' rule 1- fearless independence of thought. He has a good list to aspire to.

More posts tomorrow- the break starts Wednesday (ish).