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'Nursing is a social responsibility that can’t be replaced with charity'

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I don’t watch Strictly Come Dancing. To be honest I don’t think I would watch a dance programme that had proper dancers in it, so with one featuring former weather forecasters, an ex-drummer and half the cast of Hollyoaks, it just seems as though the BBC is being a bit sarcastic.

But it doesn’t matter - it’s just TV isn’t it? Anyway, I sense I am not part of the show’s demographic. Let’s face it, I’m a middle-aged, bald bloke who is not anybody’s target audience with the possible exception of Saga holidays, Willy McWigs the Wig company and a predatory stairlift manufacturer doing special offers for tall people.

However, while simple expressions of taste or non-understanding are generally excusable, there are certain things it is generally unwise to admit to. I say this casually in the hope that nobody arrests me for crimes against consensus but I really don’t like Children In Need.

I am sensitive to the fact that this is the time of year when people sit in baths full of baked beans and shave their heads with pencil sharpeners to raise money for needy children. And I realise that this expression of concern for the ill, vulnerable or hurting children is an act of generosity. But I am old fashioned, and I like children, and I think they deserve more than generosity.

I don’t like the institutionalisation of charity when it replaces our obligation to look after people in need. I feel uncomfortable with a process whereby children parade their frailties to get help. I feel mildly manipulated if I well up when I hear a story of hardship or courage or pain. And I worry about a collective mentality that tends toward charity over social responsibility - which is exactly what happens when we reduce spending on public services.

I have written before about the unspoken social value of nursing. Obviously, we take pride in nursing primarily because of what it does. However, we also need to articulate what nursing means. Nursing is a very specific and unique social relationship. It offers the society within which it exists something certain, something non-negotiable, something overwhelmingly civilising - it guarantees that strangers will be cared for.

The stranger does not need to tell a story, to make you cry, to rely on your willingness to donate. The nurse will attend, with skill and heart, regardless of what anyone decides you “deserve”. What nurses give is non-negotiable, it is not dependent on what sort of circumstance, mood or wealth sees it. Nursing enshrines decency and we are all elevated because of that.

I accept that charity offers people an opportunity to choose to be kind but, in so doing, it might also offer them the option to be unkind, the option to ignore any responsibility for properly funded health care, needs-led taxation and the avoidance of unnecessary suffering.

And I also accept that you can read this sort of opinion in many different ways, ranging from the mean spirited to the idealistic but I cannot help but notice that Comic Relief and Children In Need grow every year while discussion about putting up taxes to meet the needs of the vulnerable becomes increasingly distant. Kindness is a wonderful thing - I’m just not sure it should be optional.

Charity should be the added extra, not the heart of social welfare. Those who are vulnerable and sick have a right to health and social care. But we need to be careful that the care provided does not grow habitually dependent on donations.

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe

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