The other day, in our local charity shop, I very nearly bought the same pair of jeans which I had donated to Oxfam the previous week.
I am an habitué of charity shops. I regard buying stuff in there as akin to renting: a pair of designer jeans - £4.99 for 6 months; a CD - £3.00 for as long as it takes to rip to my hard drive; a novel I missed first time round - £2.99 for a week.
I buy; I wear, read, listen; I give back. This is recycling. This is charity, with small amounts going regularly to our local hospice, the Red Cross and Oxfam, amongst others. And the bleeding heart liberal in me approves of this process.
The old-fashioned Marxist in me is opposed, of course, because it believes that charity is a means of absolving the state from any responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. And this is a view shared by Cameron, Clegg and Osborne. Osborne feels that he can withdraw support, even attack existing funding measures, in the expectation that charity and philanthropy will pick up the pieces.
And he may be right. Leamington Spa colludes in this to the extent that it has been named by Oxfam as the most generous town in the UK, with only the university cities of Oxford and Cambridge donating more to good causes.
I read this curious fact only this morning. So charity was on my mind as I walked into Warwick to attend the rally against the cuts in pensions for public sector workers.
There were hundreds rather than thousands of us in the Market Square in Warwick this morning, because most were attending the huge rallies and marches in Birmingham and Coventry. But it was clear that we had universal support across the political spectrum, across the class divide; because the teachers, the nurses, the carers who were assembled were not looking for charity, they were not asking for special treatment: they were demanding their rights.
It was good to see businessmen and lawyers pausing briefly and applauding the sentiments expressed as they passed through the Market Square to the courts and offices (or, let’s be honest, to the Rose & Crown and the Lazy Cow!). It was good to hear car horns being sounded supportively with equal vehemence by both BMW drivers and local bin-men.
In fact, apart from the occasional apparatchik from Tory central office on TV, I have encountered only one person who was opposed to the public sector protests. His child is being educated in our state system and he is – I guess - happy to call in the NHS whenever required. In other words, his family depends on the people he was d(ism)issing and with whom I stood this morning. But he believes that if the public sector receive their just pensions, it will affect those of people like him. He has, I’m afraid, swallowed whole the Tory propaganda that public sector pensions are greater than could be commanded in the private sector: that it is one or the other.
Two things I learnt this morning: the average public sector pensioner receives a paltry £107 per week; and the teachers have paid into their pension fund £46 billion more than has been paid out to them.
And yet, the speeches this morning were not about us and them. The banners spoke of “decent pensions for everyone”. There were references, of course, to banking profits and bankers’ bonuses, but I am angrier about these than most of the people from Unison, NUT, NAPO and the other workers present, who were more concerned with registering their solidarity with each other than making political points.
There was wit; there was humour; there was comradeship. And there was serious concern about our future.
I have no faith. I have little hope in the current situation. So it’s just charity. (Yes, I know that agape is translated as love these days – but I’m a King James atheist.) Cameron’s Big Society included many measures which he hoped would made giving to charity easier, in order to mitigate the impact of the coalition’s current strategy, which deliberately hits the poorest in our community and leaves a million young people without a job.
As Oscar Wilde said, ‘charity creates a multitude of sins’.
Today's listening: an excellent recording of Bob at the Apollo on Sunday