Charity begins at home. Or does it?

A well worn phrase comes under scrutiny in the regular East London Humanists opinion piece for the Barking and Dagenham Post (for publication March 2018).

“Charity begins at home.”  This is said so often there is a risk of it being taken for granted as a sound principle. Far from it. The notion deserves careful examination, particularly as debate rages over foreign aid and the charities scandal.

It is often played as the trump (forgive the expression) card against calls to support good causes overseas. The false implication is that helping foreigners means turning backs on ‘our own.’  However, it is perfectly possible, and morally right, to do something to help everyone in need irrespective of where they happen to live. There is of course much need in the UK. But the problems here pale in comparison to the experience around the globe where millions die needlessly due to poor sanitation and malnutrition. And our problems are largely due to the way this country’s great wealth is distributed.

Contrary perhaps to popular belief the saying is not a quote from the Bible, or from any holy book. In fact it probably originally meant that we learn about compassion in the home, a message that has since become distorted. Sharing what we have with the people we live with at home is not what most people would regard as ‘charity.’

Charities and delivery of aid generally are in need of reform. But anyone who cares about humans and the planet as a whole should be wary of any attempt to exploit these issues by those with a narrow-minded view of who deserves our help.

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists. February 2018

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