Charity and Rag Week
Charity, in Ireland is a common feature. Many people routinely date, have direct debits and/or connections to various charities. They are seen as invaluable assets to society and as such, R&G week forms a crucial element to student culture and to the charitable culture that’s firmly established. In order to understand my criticism of RAG week it is equally important to understand the function charity has in Irish society and it’s interrelation to distracting from the resolution of
Take a step back for a moment to first consider why charities exist and what function they perform. I would suggest that charities have multiple functions in a free market liberal democracy:
1. Alleviate responsibility for handling critical social issues from the State to ‘independent’ bodies (that exist basically from state funding).
2. Distract, distract and distract. It’s the charities failing – not policy!
3. Mislead a generally empathetic population to contribute to charities rather than question the origin of certain socio-economic issues.
There are a number of side issues that emerge from each one but I’m going to use housing and homelessness charities as an example. The government increases how much it will dedicate to contributing to homeless charities while refusing to building public housing at cost price that it can rent out at a lower rate. One must wonder why that is? Is it difficult? Does the State not possess the land or resources to provide this solution? In order to not interfere in the interest of market force the State refuses to build houses. By contributing generously to charity it can be seen to be addressing the issue without actually addressing the issue which is a chronic shortage of housing.
Raise & Give Week, as well as other charitable events and fund-raisers fall into the same trap. It is culturally agreeable and encouraged to run a marathon or to perform one act or another but it is totally frowned upon to take agency of your own position in society as a worker or tenant, in fact you are punished for it.
For example – we raise money and food for homeless charities that hand out the food or cook it and provide it but we rarely ask ourselves how do people end up on the street or why do they need to access services to supplement their diet? Why aren’t their wages enough for them to get by on or why did they get evicted by their landlord?
Another example is in relation to mental health. RAG week will raise thousands for charities, some of them will be mental health charities. Does anybody else not see the tremendous irony between the promotion of a dystopia substance abuse filled culture whilst raising money for charities that deal with some of the consequences of substance abuse?
Charity alongside R&G week exists in Ireland because the State is failing civic society in providing essential and fundamental services. The State is failing because it is as Connolly stated: “A committee of the rich, to manage the affairs of the rich” and it’s budgets are based towards alleviating and enriching one small sector of society.
Students Unions should be examining more creative ways of enhancing the lives of their members, for example – part of the reason students require financial assistance is because their fees are high, or their wages are low, or their rent is too high. A number of those issues have tangible and material solutions. For tackling high rent and grotesque treatment by landlords – there should be consideration given to tenant unions and associations. For tackling low wages and poor contracts, students should be informed, educated and encouraged to join trade unions and be organised in the workplace.
Surely – long lasting solutions such as the two above would be better long lasting cures for difficult and expensive living conditions? It is reported that over 500 young women in UCC have signed up to “seekingarrangement.com”, a website which matches “sugar babies” with “sugar daddies” who in exchange for company determined between two parties receive financial assistance. Do these chronic issues not deserve our utmost attention?
I’ll finish on this note. This short piece is not to critique the important role charities play nor the energy or sympathy associated to those who contribute but to question why those charities exist and where does responsibility truly lie for the issues facing the Ireland of today.
To truly help society – young people should be creatively looking to attack the root cause that all these issues stem from, rather than continuing to focus on the symptoms.