The immediate dust has settled on another epic fund raising telethon which was broadcast to the nation last Friday, 15th March 2013, namely Comic Relief. Now I rather like events such as this and have supported “Relief” in it’s various forms over the years, whether it is Comic or Sport or indeed the BBC annual telethon Children In Need with dancing newsreaders, Pudsey Bear and Sir Terry Wogan persuading us to help others. The umbrella branding of the events is powerful and the main objectives are worthy in the extreme. The community spirit that is encouraged to raise funds to support those less well off than themselves is a tonic to partake in, whether it be at work, school, social club or even a street and there is great strength to be taken from the will of people to join together and support such events. And I wouldn’t dream of belittling the efforts that people go to in order to support these worthwhile causes. But I do have a lot of questions going round my head.
As we are so used to Lenny Henry shouting at us to donate money the reality documentaries have been made harder and harder to watch. Watching a little boy die on screen from something as treatable as malaria is really tough. Having to explain this to my 8 year old son was equally tough. But ultimately rewarding to attempt to teach him a little about how lucky he is and then listening to him say that he wants to donate all his money to help other people. Watching people who have suffered at the hands of others and ultimately overcome their issue was also laudable. There were clear demonstrations of how the money we had raised by doing something funny had gone to help. And this is all rather lovely.
However, some things are just not funny. Through the years the televised event has had many famous and worthy comedians lending their support but this year the flippancy of some of the remarks made by those presenting were obscene. For example, immediately following a tough watch on domestic violence the next sketch featured the character Mrs Brown hitting someone (albeit off camera) and I suspect the silence of the audience told us all we needed to know – we couldn’t believe what we were watching. Other examples of such crass stupidity involved Jack Whitehall doing a rape gag and David Walliams doing an over long routine about unprotected sex following an HIV film. Was this deliberately timed? To be honest if it was deliberate and designed to be clever it washed right over me. The one thing that was generally absent from the evening was comedy timing. Can we really be encouraged to support the poor by a collection of individuals in cheap suits who usually spend their time being rude selling out arena tours?
The sums raised appear fantastic especially in what is a collective time of hardship for many individuals in this country. We have always been a charitable nation and pride ourselves on it. My son even asked if other countries, especially America, raised money for the poor like we do. I couldn’t answer him as if they do news had not reached me. There have been some £800m raised by Comic Relief since it started. For many the sums have been life changing. Events have moved on from when the movement was founded in 1985. There was always the ratio of funds being split – two thirds to Africa and one third allocated to UK projects. In Africa there was an immediate need to feed people who were starving through no fault of their own. The projects quickly changed and moved on from sacks of grain being shipped to water supplies, purification and then onto other issues such as further medication, education and illness prevention.
The issues faced are overwhelming and sometimes you feel that no matter how much money you can throw at a problem it is never enough. The Western World owes Africa a great debt given how we have sapped the continent dry of it’s resources both human and natural over the years. There are so many hardships that each country faces and it is gratifying to see that a number of key issues are supported that affect all outside political constraints – striking at the root causes of social injustice and poverty. All this in the face of some of the political horrors that the leaders in Africa subject their people to, the stories of Presidents for life pocketing funds from their respective countries’ GDP are commonplace.
In the UK, which now commands 41% of funding from Comic Relief as Lenny revealed on Friday, we see similar projects being funded. Those that are trapped by poverty, abuse, addiction and generally unable to fend for themselves in society. Society is quite a topic in itself and I refer you to this excellent blog by Fiatpanda. Despite the protestations of our Government, and all the recession doom laden statistics, Britain is not a poor country, far from it. My worry is that more state funding will be withdrawn from such telethon schemes and projects will end up being solely funded by charity because no one else will. In a civilised country, we should be supporting projects such as these through funding from Government.
This is a country where Police Commissioner Elections cost £100m, where two weeks of sport in 2012 cost in the region of £9 billion, where we have nuclear weapons and we sell weapons designed to kill to some of the more unstable nations in the World and where we can bail out unscrupulous banks who gamble their money at will. In terms of spare money that British people have we are able to play the National Lottery, another charitable source for projects that don’t require Government funding, and we are able to support football to such an extent that the annual Premiership wage bill is over £1.5 billion. We have more individuals in employment than ever before but we allow the corporate World to disregard the tax laws.
This is a country that has a welfare system developed to cope with the social hardships at the end of the Second World War and is in major need of reforming, where those who genuinely need our help can benefit rather than allowing the system to be abused by those who are able to. With imagination and effort the welfare state can be updated for the needs of the 21st Century. We could afford to support these projects, we could do something about poverty and we could make a change to the people of this country if there was the will to do so. And yet we keep telling the people of Britain that we are all in it together, we keep alienating the poorest in society, taxing bedrooms of those in council houses and blaming addiction on the availability of supermarket lager rather than focussing on the root causes of poverty. Therefore we still have the need for telethons bringing the country together doing a sterling job in raising awareness of our own shortcomings as a nation.
And this isn’t funny at all.