As many of you will know, 2016 is a year that we will celebrate a significant number of very important anniversaries and not just those that relate to the Great War, important though some such as Gallipoli certainly are. I could not possibly attempt to list all of the anniversaries that will be celebrated this year but allow me to highlight a few before moving on to the more worrying issue of charities.
Celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the Royal Aeronautical Society are already well under way and, recalling that I myself had been an Air Cadet back in the mid 1960’s, I am bound to wish to remind that this year also marks the 75th anniversary of the Air Training Corps.
Amongst what I suspect are a large number of Royal Air Force squadron anniversaries taking place this year I would mention those of RAF Benson based 33 Squadron, 39 Squadron which is in partly based at RAF Waddington and just one more that is important to me, that of 54 Squadron which is based at RAF Waddington. Two other very important anniversaries this year and that should not be allowed to go unmarked are the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Prince’s Trust.
Of the Royal Aeronautical Society, of which as I am both Fellow and a Trustee and of the Air Training Corp I will write again separately at a later date. Of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, arguably the most successful enterprise that any member of the Royal family have ever set up and one that has in my view provided incentive, motivation, challenge and the ability for young people from all backgrounds to demonstrate determination, leadership and self-belief I have nothing but praise to offer.
Equally so for the Prince’s Trust which has grown from a personal belief 40 years ago by Prince Charles that far too many young people were being excluded from society through lack of opportunity. Over the years the Prince’s Trust has been inspirational in helping so far, over 825,000 young people aged between 13 and 30 to find education, training and jobs. Like the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, the Prince’s Trust is a registered charity and one that relies on donations and the work of all those that engage in supporting it. Both of these charities command universal respect today. To both the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles we owe a debt of gratitude for what they have created and also for ongoing support that both these senior members of the Royal family have provided these fantastic causes for good. They will remain a lasting legacy to both men.
Charities are an emotive subject and as I know to my cost one needs to tread carefully in proffering any criticism. Military charities do a fantastic job of work and whether it is the Royal British Legion, SSAFA, Help for Heroes, Invictus Games plus a great many others that seek in a variety of ways to motivate and support injured serving military personnel and their families all that I can say is that we are all extremely grateful for the great work that what they do. We all have our favourites of course and I make no apologies for listing the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust and RAF Benevolent Fund as being amongst my own.
There are plenty of other large and small charities that also do other great work such as those that support private museums, those engaged in heritage support whose principle aim might be to preserve a way of life, buildings, aircraft, railways, steam engines, industrial heritage and many other forms of transport, science and technology. The Royal Air Force Museum and the Fly Navy Heritage Trust are two such charitable organisations that really do stand out for me as being very well operated and well worthy of all the support that they get. Of course, I admit to being biased and that there are literally hundreds of others that should also be listed.
I admit to having great respect for the work done by the Red Cross but apart from seeing this great and noble charity in action in Bosnia I have to admit to having had very little exposure to the work done by larger well known charities such as Oxfam, Save the Children, Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation and many others just like them. No doubt that I could, if I so wished, find reason to criticise some of the more well-known charities and while I am sure that underneath it they probably all do a good job of work helping those that they set out to assist I would, in this more questionable day and age in relation to trust, have to say that until I see real transparency that can show the rest of us how these charities spend every penny of monies donated I will remain a sceptic about some.
And then there is the subject of how some of the larger charities go about collecting their money. I admit to having little if any respect for any charity that pressurises older people into making donations by calling them personally by phone or bombarding them with pleading letters in order to persuade some to give money right now or maybe leave money to that particular charity in their wills. I hate to see the pursuance of an act that attempts to make the most vulnerable feel guilty. By the same token, I will have nothing to do with any charity that pays people to persuade members of the public to fill in its donation forms or to part with their money as they attempt to go about their daily business.
Arguably some of the larger charities have lost the plot and become far too greedy but there are other issues about charities that alarm me as well. For instance, I was somewhat perturbed earlier this week when I read a report that suggested Oxfam, using data provided by Credit Suisse, had concluded not only that the richest 1% of the world population have as much wealth as the rest of the world combined but also that 62 people in the world apparently hold as much wealth in their hands as the poorest 50% of the global population combined.
What on earth is wrong with that I hear some of you asking? OK, so I am not about to contest the Oxfam or Credit Suisse figures and I have absolutely no idea whether these are right or wrong. Like most others I suspect I too dislike the thought of so much wealth being in the hands of so few but I am also old and wise enough to know that there is nothing that I or anyone else can do about that apart from using my vote. My issue with a charity such as Oxfam is that whether [being a registered charity meaning one that also pays no tax on profits] the charity is breaking rules that govern its charitable status if, and it is a big if, there are those that claim by putting its name to statistics such as these, Oxfam nay stand accused of playing in politics?
On a similar line of thought, is it right that a charity such as this that is reliant on public donations should waste precious resources feeding information into the public domain that, I must assume, it might well have paid for? If so, should the money have better been used to provide support for those suffering in poverty across the world or that are in need of relief?
In challenging whether Oxfam should be dabbling in wealth statistics we must recognise that there is an ample supply of well-resourced organisations around the world such as the United Nations, World Health Organisation and International Monetary Fund who can provided well researched and unbiased statistical information covering various aspects of health, wealth and figures about levels of global poverty. Surely Oxfam should concentrate every penny of resource that it receives from donations given in good faith or what t earns through its massive chain of expensive to run charity ships to help more of those suffering in great hardship, poverty or in need of humanitarian aid to help themselves.
CHW (London – 27th January 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS