BOOK REVIEW / For love or money This welfare business: 'The Charity Business: The New Philanthropists' - Tom Lloyd: John Murray, 19.99 pounds

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The Independent Culture
A SHODDY, padded and disjointed book like this can nevertheless be important - and dangerous. It preaches a post-Thatcherite religion that the public sector, when not positively evil, is inevitably inadequate and that private companies can - indeed should - take over the work of the welfare state.

Tom Lloyd adopts the Thatcherite trick of stating loud and often that There Is No Alternative: 'Like Communism, with which it has ideological kinship, the idea of an all-caring, omni-competent state has failed the test of time . . . it is simply not possible for the state to continue in the role assigned to it by Beveridge.'

Anyone hoping that private charity can replace public funds is, however, faced with a number of insuperable problems. First, the rich (especially in Britian) are not natural givers: almost invariably they're convinced that they're not as 'well orf' as their friends, relatives or neighbours. A list of Britain's biggest donors consists almost entirely of new money, property developers like Lord Rayne or shopkeepers like the Sainsburys.

To fill the gap left by state and old wealth, Lloyd propounds the inevitability of the 'coming together of the company ethos and the charitable ethos'. Companies 'will be buying 'reputational' assets from the charity sector. Philanthropy and the profit motive will merge and become indistinguishable from each other.'

To make this even half-credible, Lloyd has to assume that economic life will continue to be dominated by major companies which employ thousands of executives for the whole of their working lives, for only such organisations can provide for their former employees and still have cash available for more general charitable expenditure. But it is now a truism that the future lies elsewhere, in smaller companies, and in a lifetime of changing jobs.

So even if they do go in for enlightened self-interest, for believing that, as Lloyd puts it, 'social responsibility and self-interest can be different sides of the same coin', companies will simply not have the financial clout to act on a sufficient scale.

But Lloyd's hard-headedness is useful in analysing charities as businesses. Those involved can become hopelessly self-indulgent, feeling that the mere act of 'doing good' can legitimately cover a multitude of sins. The plethora of overlapping charities in fashionable fields such as cancer research show just how far egotism can replace a genuine desire to help.

As he says, charities have to be treated like 'brand names', but ones where the public's expectations are higher than with the ordinary run of consumer goods. They must be unsullied by fraud, incompetence or - he would add from his right-wing viewpoint - the sort of political involvement inevitable when a charity like Oxfam is working in countries where the gulf between rich and poor is even greater than it is in Britain.

But that's a long way from assuming that charities can replace the much-abused National Health Service, however much corporate money they might attract. Indeed, Lloyd ultimately explodes his nave idea that enlightened self-interest will induce companies to become increasingly involved in the welfare business. He does this by quoting Groucho Marx's saying: 'The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.'