Problem = State Funding

August 21, 2009 12:34 PM

From the off, let me state emphatically that this is not post about domestic violence. Due to its stimulus - a Today programme interview on the subject of domestic violence - some may misinterpret what follows as an attempt to downplay the severity of the problem or marginalise the suffering of its victims. This post is anything but. Domestic violence is a hidden evil that destroys the lives of thousands, with consequences that go far beyond broken bones and bruises. Society must do everything it can to ferret out its perpetrators, and shelter its victims. But the manner in which our society goes about dealing with its consequences is a genuine a matter for debate. As with many other social ills we are presented with a strange choice: are the consequences something for the state to deal with, or civil society itself?

Lets begin with the obvious observation that the criminal aspect of domestic violence is of course dealt with by the state. The police and judicial system should be empowered appropriately to punish those who met out abuse and protect their victims. News today that victims will be able to get greater protection from the courts falls within this.

Sandra Horley though, from the charity Refuge, made the point this morning that while greater protection is welcome, the real problem is a lack of provision for the victims. In other words, dealing with the consequences of domestic violence. Shelter places, almost universally offered by charities such as Refuge, are severely limited, and services are thin on the ground. The state, Ms Horley asserted, must dedicate resources to fix this.

And here's the rub.

Ms Horley is right in her analysis that more resources should be dedicated to helping the victims of domestic violence. Provision is thin on the ground. But is it really the state that should fill the gap? Ms Horely believes it should be the state because currently, to quote: "abused women in this country, a civilised country, are forced to rely on charity". Moreover, Refuge (the charity) is "providing what should be state-funded services".

Two hints at what is - I suspect -  a widely held if unquestioned belief: if there is a problem, the state is responsible for fixing it. The flip side of no state provision being, as Ms Horely stated, a reliance on charity. Is that reliance such a bad thing though? If this logic was extended beyond domestic abuse, should we demand the Government dedicate more resources to hospice care for terminally ill cancer patients? State provision in that area is again poor, over-subscribed and widely considered below standard. Many people therefore rely on charities to provide them with end-of-life care, which even the Government concedes is often much better than what it can manage. Indeed widening charitable hospice care is at the centre of the Government's 'working with the third sector' strategy.

It is not a bad thing to rely on charity. If anything UK society needs to rely more on charity. As the state gets called upon to address every social concern, fix every problem, the consequences are - as we see today - a massive fiscal crisis and patchy provision of inadequate services. Hearing Ms Horley this morning, one's sympathy for Government grows: an eloquent, impassioned and reasonable demand for action on an important issue. If the Government doesn't act it looks heartless and remote. Yet Government just cannot afford to deal with all of society ills. It is limited. Indeed it cannot begin to deal properly with the thousands of things it has already turned its hand to.

But this is not just about money. Although that is a critical consideration (on which the Government would have to concede its hands are tied - it's bankrupt after all), this is also an issue of which level can best deliver a service. And in the case of sheltering and helping the victims of domestic abuse, just as with many other problems (some of which the Government already ham-fistedly tries to address) that level is civil society, with part of that being charity. Refuge does great work, and society should do all it can to enable it reach more people and provide more help. The same goes for the local hospice, homeless shelter or special needs play group.

Where the state can play a part is in helping to incentivise greater charitable giving. Rather than feeling, as many people do, that you have paid your bit for society through taxes, so the rest of your pay packet is for you, tax and charitable structures should be changed so that we do not automatically feel that 'giving' is an extra burden after tax. The state has the scope to incentivise much more than it currently does (Gift aid being a just a small step in the right direction). Charities should be focused less on getting the Government to give it money or set up services, and instead put pressure on it to help people to give more themselves. The state is not the answer to all of soceity problems. Society itself must take some responsibility for them too.    

From the off, let me state emphatically that this is not post about domestic violence. Due to its stimulus - a Today programme interview on the subject of domestic violence - some may misinterpret what follows as an attempt to downplay the severity of the problem or marginalise the suffering of its victims. This post is anything but. Domestic violence is a hidden evil that destroys the lives of thousands, with consequences that go far beyond broken bones and bruises. Society must do everything it can to ferret out its perpetrators, and shelter its victims. But the manner in which our society goes about dealing with its consequences is a genuine a matter for debate. As with many other social ills we are presented with a strange choice: are the consequences something for the state to deal with, or civil society itself?

Lets begin with the obvious observation that the criminal aspect of domestic violence is of course dealt with by the state. The police and judicial system should be empowered appropriately to punish those who met out abuse and protect their victims. News today that victims will be able to get greater protection from the courts falls within this.

Sandra Horley though, from the charity Refuge, made the point this morning that while greater protection is welcome, the real problem is a lack of provision for the victims. In other words, dealing with the consequences of domestic violence. Shelter places, almost universally offered by charities such as Refuge, are severely limited, and services are thin on the ground. The state, Ms Horley asserted, must dedicate resources to fix this.

And here's the rub.

Ms Horley is right in her analysis that more resources should be dedicated to helping the victims of domestic violence. Provision is thin on the ground. But is it really the state that should fill the gap? Ms Horely believes it should be the state because currently, to quote: "abused women in this country, a civilised country, are forced to rely on charity". Moreover, Refuge (the charity) is "providing what should be state-funded services".

Two hints at what is - I suspect -  a widely held if unquestioned belief: if there is a problem, the state is responsible for fixing it. The flip side of no state provision being, as Ms Horely stated, a reliance on charity. Is that reliance such a bad thing though? If this logic was extended beyond domestic abuse, should we demand the Government dedicate more resources to hospice care for terminally ill cancer patients? State provision in that area is again poor, over-subscribed and widely considered below standard. Many people therefore rely on charities to provide them with end-of-life care, which even the Government concedes is often much better than what it can manage. Indeed widening charitable hospice care is at the centre of the Government's 'working with the third sector' strategy.

It is not a bad thing to rely on charity. If anything UK society needs to rely more on charity. As the state gets called upon to address every social concern, fix every problem, the consequences are - as we see today - a massive fiscal crisis and patchy provision of inadequate services. Hearing Ms Horley this morning, one's sympathy for Government grows: an eloquent, impassioned and reasonable demand for action on an important issue. If the Government doesn't act it looks heartless and remote. Yet Government just cannot afford to deal with all of society ills. It is limited. Indeed it cannot begin to deal properly with the thousands of things it has already turned its hand to.

But this is not just about money. Although that is a critical consideration (on which the Government would have to concede its hands are tied - it's bankrupt after all), this is also an issue of which level can best deliver a service. And in the case of sheltering and helping the victims of domestic abuse, just as with many other problems (some of which the Government already ham-fistedly tries to address) that level is civil society, with part of that being charity. Refuge does great work, and society should do all it can to enable it reach more people and provide more help. The same goes for the local hospice, homeless shelter or special needs play group.

Where the state can play a part is in helping to incentivise greater charitable giving. Rather than feeling, as many people do, that you have paid your bit for society through taxes, so the rest of your pay packet is for you, tax and charitable structures should be changed so that we do not automatically feel that 'giving' is an extra burden after tax. The state has the scope to incentivise much more than it currently does (Gift aid being a just a small step in the right direction). Charities should be focused less on getting the Government to give it money or set up services, and instead put pressure on it to help people to give more themselves. The state is not the answer to all of soceity problems. Society itself must take some responsibility for them too.    

Latest Blogs:

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

The sugar tax and the public finances

6:00 AM 05, Dec 2016 Harry Fairhead

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Working for the taxman

6:00 AM 26, Nov 2016 Harry Fairhead

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Further thoughts on the Autumn Statement

4:56 PM 24, Nov 2016 James Price

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Have we had too much austerity?

10:57 AM 23, Nov 2016 Alex Wild