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Does charity really begin at home?

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

Charity at home

There’s no doubt that the people of the UK are a generous lot. Around 10 billion pounds is raised each year for good causes in the UK, which is remarkable.

However, the adage that charity begins at home may not necessarily be true. Not everyone supports charities or gives to people in need. For example, how many of us walk past beggars or homeless people on the street? How many of us actually phone/text to donate when national telethons, such as Comic Relief and Children in Need, are on? How many give their financial support to every single one of their friends’ fundraisers?

With regards to the homeless, I can understand that safety concerns as well as cynicism are barriers to giving. There are plenty of places for those on the streets to access long-term, effective support if they want it; however, a significant portion of people who beg for money do so for other reasons than simply to survive the day. Some are coerced into begging for gangs, some beg to fund their addictions, there have even been reports of people with their own houses and cars jacking in their jobs and begging on the streets because they deem it to be more lucrative (though this could be a figment of the media’s imagination). Unfortunately, you don’t know if the person approaching you on the street for cash is a ‘deserving case’ or one of the alternatives. Some beggars can also be quite aggressive if they fear they’re about to be brushed off, which is another reason (particularly at night-time) people cross the road to avoid them.

This same train of thought can apply to those seeking refuge in our country. Many people believe we haven’t the space and resources to accommodate refugees coming to our shores—an attitude that is frequently whipped into a frenzy by the national media, alongside images of young, fit men of working age getting off the boats, rather than families, children and vulnerable people. The argument that comes from opposers is the same as this article’s title…they insist that charity begins at home, and we should apply our country’s resources towards helping those in need within our own shores before we extend the same support to people from further afield.

With regards to national fundraising campaigns or even fundraising challenges your friends may take up, the problem is, there’s so many and donor fatigue may come into play. Few of us have the disposable income to give to every fundraising campaign that comes on our radar, and if you have limited funds, you may believe that your small donation is unlikely to make a difference anyway. Particularly in the current economic climate, feeling flush enough to give money away to a good cause is not something everyone will experience, given the many redundancies we’ve seen and the number of businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic.

Of course, there’s more than one way to give to charity. Donating clothes and other goods is one, as is volunteering your time—both can make a difference.


According to a report in August 2021, ‘formal volunteering’ has decreased significantly, which is perhaps understandable when the general public was told to stay indoors and not mix with anyone outside of their household. However, the same report shows that informal volunteering has increased, when government guidelines allow. This shift could be symptomatic of the pandemic, or maybe this will be the way people will still choose to volunteer after Covid has gone. As we juggle more and more things at work and at play, a commitment to regularly volunteer to a good cause may seem too much of an ask of younger generations, whereas the same demographic may be happy to offer their time to charity as and when their commitments, hobbies and workload allow.

The media can influence how people donate to charities. For instance, there was a huge hoo-hah in the national media a few years ago, based on the high salaries of charity CEOs. However, as I explored in this article, when put into context and compared to the same positions in the public and private sectors, these salaries don’t seem as unfair as the media would have you believe. There’s no doubt, though, that newspapers putting the knife in, so to speak, had a knock-on effect. Some people stopped donating their money to help people in need because of reports like these.

Maybe time is the currency of the moment. According to a study by Community First, the face of charity volunteering has definitely altered. More young people are giving up their time, but perhaps understandably, it’s on a sporadic or short-term basis. Charities are adapting to this and, in turn, by honouring this method of volunteering, are helping their volunteers navigate mental health issues and periods of social isolation. A win/win for all involved.

We also feel more obliged to donate to causes if we see other people doing so. For instance, if all of your mutual friends donated to a pal’s fundraising challenge, it may look bad if you’re the only one who doesn’t. Similarly, if we see people throwing money into a bucket for a street collector, we may be more motivated to do the same than if no one paid the charity worker any attention.

If we all made the effort to give to charity—however small our donation and whatever the nature of our help—the problems that could be helped or eradicated could really stack up. Charity does begin at home, but it certainly doesn’t have to end there.


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