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Theodore Dalrymple; The Red Cross pot calling the NHS kettle black

Theodore Dalrymple

The British Red Cross says that there is a humanitarian crisis looming in the National Health Service.

There is a British Red Cross shop in the high street of the market town in which I live. A little while ago I asked one of the old ladies who worked in it how much of the money she took went to the Red Cross. She looked at me as if I were mad.

‘Why, all of it, of course!’ she said.

Little did she know! According to the British Red Cross’s accounts for 2015, the latest I could find, the Red Cross derived £29.9 million from its retailing activities, raised by 631 paid employees and 6346 volunteers such as the old lady. But the expenses incurred in raising the £29.9 million were £25 million. In other words, all this activity generated a profit of £4.9 million. For every pound that the old lady took, therefore, only 16.3 pence reached the charitable coffers of the Red Cross (of which a not inconsiderable proportion was then expended on the salaries of those who worked for it). I doubt that the old lady would have the faintest notion of any of this: and I doubt equally that the Red Cross was eager to enlighten her on this matter.

Needless to say, the shop is hardly an ornament to the town. There is now one such charity shop per 1000 of the population, and I saw today that another will open soon. Meanwhile, the town council considers application from chain stores to open more stores on the outskirts of the town. I have seen the future, at least for Britain: it is Tesco plus pauperisation.

Still, the question arises how the British Red Cross can raise so little money from its retail operations. After all, it receives most of its goods and a large part of its labour free of charge, and it pays reduced local taxes (a policy that should, of course, cease forthwith). It is a miracle of disorganisation, at least equal to anything seen in the National Health Service: I hesitate to call it by a name less morally neutral than disorganisation.

I have no reason to suspect that the British Red Cross is alone in this, or particularly egregious: the other charities are no doubt just as bad. I call upon the public, therefore, to give no money to charity, at least none that runs a shop. Strike a blow against the exploitation of old ladies: refrain from giving.

1 Comment on Theodore Dalrymple; The Red Cross pot calling the NHS kettle black

  1. I had a look at the accounts, and can confirm that the retail figures are as specified. But I am not sure that this is the whole story. On their website I see they claim to expend 71% of their total income on charitable causes – a figure which seems reasonable, when you compare, for instance, the money spent on straight appeals – £40m, with the money received – £153m. Some fundraising activities pay well, some pay marginally.

    In the case of retail shops, the expenditure will cover the rental, insurance, legal fees and running costs as well as rates, and, no doubt, other incidentals. I presume that the landlords or the electric company do not drop their rates significantly if they are renting to a charity.

    So the poor return is at least explained. These shops have a poor turnover, selling occasional objects at a pound or so, and have to pay market rates simply to exist. The question now becomes – “Do we want to have some charity shops in the High Street staffed by volunteers and making minimal profit, or would we rather see boarded-up shop-fronts and shop rental companies out of business?”

    The point is one on which differing views can easily be held, but so long as the charity shops provide SOME profit, I see them as maintaining the High Street culture in our lives for a little bit longer. The day cannot be far off when all of our goods are web-requested direct from the Chinese factory and drone-delivered from a holding warehouse in the Midlands. When that happens the distinctive high-street culture will disappear, and all I can do is hope that it will happen in my children’s, rather than my, lifetime…

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