Why charity can’t be the answer

“Do people have a right to social services that will solve their difficulties? Since it is our argument that charities and philanthropies are out of place in a mature society, social services should not be a matter of privilege but should be guaranteed by law.

charity“In a developed society, responses to human needs are channeled through organizational forms. Such services should be met by public agencies financed primarily by tax funds, and not by voluntary, private agencies financed primarily by non-tax funds.

“The ‘right’ to welfare services should be integrated into our legal system because, pragmatically, it offers the only workable alternative to the continuing and intensifying deterioration of social conditions; and philosophically, human needs precede in fact and in importance the service rendered. . . .

“Because men and women are entitled to life, they are entitled to an adequate diet, decent housing, sufficient clothes, total medical care, adequate treatment for mental health problems, and the freedom and opportunity to search for values.

“What private agency can address itself to the fact that half the hospital beds in the United States are in psychiatric institutions? What constellation of agencies can hope to measure up to the societal demands for food, clothing, health, and shelter? We have tried for many years and have abysmally failed. ‘Topping’ the United Way goal, for example, is the height of irony. We haven’t begun to provide services that would uphold the humaneness of our neighbor. The United Way, and most other fundraising agencies, are classic examples where the service defines the need, rather than the opposite.

“The services required can only be guaranteed by the resources and participation — in part or in full — of government: local, state, or, preferably, federal. Human needs have outgrown the resources of private charity. Services as a matter of privilege, which can be arbitrarily withdrawn, are as antiquated as voluntary control of air pollution, sewage disposal, and other community problems.

“The mere involvement of government does not mean that private agencies should go out of business. Their place will be to work for social welfare on the public front, to speak out and lobby for better social services, to conduct research and experiment with new techniques, to watch the administration of services, and insure democratic and not arbitrary practices. The future of the private agency would be assured.” — Hans S. Falck, excerpted from “All charities should be abolished,” published in the May-June 1966 edition of FOCUS/Midwest 

At the time his essay was published in the St. Louis-based magazine, Falck was a professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis. He later taught at Virginia Commonwealth University. He was a past chapter president of the National Association of Social Workers and a founder of the Virginia Organization of Health Care Social Workers. (Originally posted March 3, 2009)

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