Government must not crowd out compassion

Steve's baby daughter made amazing progress this week, or so his wife thought

STEVE CANAVAN: It was a lot of rattle over just a little roll

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In economics, there is a concept called crowding out.

Traditionally, it has applied when governments borrow so much money that it leaves limited resources for businesses to borrow money for investment; crowding out business.

More broadly, it applies when the work done by families, businesses or voluntary groups is replaced by government activity.

Government can crowd out compassion too. It can stifle the desire people have to help their neighbour or give something back to the community.

At the same time, of course, we need to debate where the boundary should be between the core services that have to be provided by government and what needs could be met by individual or community initiative; about where taxpayer funded services ends and private generosity starts.

This month I have seen two really good examples of where the generosity and initiative of individuals has met needs that government has not.

Earlier this month, I visited the Rainbow Centre in Fareham, which works with children with cerebral palsy and adults with Parkinsons, or those who have had strokes, to help them regain mobility.

The Rainbow Centre gets no money from government. It depends primarily on fundraising to cover its operating costs.

Last Friday, I went to the launch of The Haven in Wessex, which aims to provide emotional, psychological and physical support to the 2,800 women diagnosed with breast cancer in Wessex every year.

Like the Rainbow Centre, it is entirely dependent on donations for financial support.

The work it does is inspiring.

But if compassion was the monopoly of government and private initiative was crowded out, there would be no guarantee that Rainbow Centre and The Haven would be supported by the taxpayer.

They thrive because people make choices about who to support.

People whose lives have been touched by Parkinsons or breast cancer can choose to support the Rainbow Centre and The Haven.

Both charities’ work is shaped by the needs and choices of our community. Government cannot and should not crowd out the compassion that has led to their creation.

It needs to create space for people to choose what to support whilst at the same time providing the core services that society expects to be in place.