In defence of the ice bucket challenge against the killjoys

Only about one in 10 people actually pay up after doing the ice bucket challenge. But that's still a lot of money.

Only about one in 10 people actually pay up after doing the ice bucket challenge. But that’s still a lot of money

Former Labour prime minister Clement Attlee is rightly revered on the left, not least for leading a government which introduced the National Health Service and the pillars of the welfare state.

But he’s also admired for some of the things he said, not least the following:

‘Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.’

Like most people on the left, I broadly agree. There isn’t much that is more nauseating than seeing a celebrity ‘philanthropist’ who very publically gives with one hand while in private ruthlessly seeking to minimise what they pay in tax with the other.

One such example is Bono, the frontman of the rock group U2. Bono spent the 2000s admonishing Western governments for not giving enough in aid to Africa. Meanwhile he was undermining his own government’s ability to do so by moving U2’s tax liability from Ireland to the Netherlands.

When asked about the band’s decision, U2’s lead guitarist David Evans, aka ‘The Edge’, said that of course the band were trying to be tax-efficient, because ‘who doesn’t want to be tax-efficient?’

Well presumably someone wants Ireland to use taxpayer’s money to help the needy in Africa.

All of that said, Attlee’s observation appears to have been taken a little too literally by some if the sour grapes being heaped on the ice bucket challenge are anything to go by.

For those who for whatever reason still haven’t seen it, the ice bucket challenge involves being filmed having a bucket of ice cold water poured over your head and then nominating a friend for the same. The idea was originally conceived to raise awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and those taking the challenge are supposed to make a donation to charity.

The challenge has so far raised tens of millions of pounds worldwide for various charities.

However, new research by the Charities Aid Foundation has found that only about one in 10 people actually pay up after doing the challenge.

For some, this is evidence that the ice bucket challenge is predominantly about vanity; about attention seeking on social networking sites. It is also taken by some as further evidence of the wisdom of Attlee’s observation.

And yet as much as I sympathise with the idea that the needy shouldn’t have to rely on charity for support, and that there’s a certain portion of narcissism at play in the ice bucket challenge, there isn’t really a conceivable state of affairs in which charity wouldn’t be a valuable addition to the safety net provided by the state.

Even if the state did spray money around so as to commandeer those areas currently dominated by the charity sector, there would still be gaps through which people would invariably fall.

No, people should never have to rely on how charitable the public are feeling, but nor should they have to worry that, if the state fails to support them sufficiently (which it sometimes will, because like everything else the state is fallible) there will be nothing left for them to fall back on.

Charity will always exist because the idea of faultless government is a fantasy. The left should try to ensure that people never have to rely on charity while recognising that, because of mistakes, bureaucracy and a lack of resources, charity will always have its place.

As for narcissism, does it really matter? None of us is completely free from ego, and we’ve all, I am sure, at one time or another done something on social media, however small, in order to receive praise – flagrantly or more subtly – from other people.

Surely what’s really important is this – millions of pounds have been raised that will help some of the people who need it most. Without the ice bucket challenge, this would not have happened.

The fact that some people seem to be having a great deal of fun while taking the challenge, and the fact that a lot of bothersome celebrities have very publically got on board, shouldn’t distract us from the main point: people – lots of people – will benefit from the fact that the ice bucket challenge has gone viral.

This is why I refuse to be a cynic, despite today’s research. One in 10 is better than none in 10.

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