These are some reflections by Andrew Cates, CEO of SOS Children UK
It is 18 November 2011. The BBC Children in Need programme for this year is well underway. I will watch and enjoy some of it this evening. Two contrary views of "Children in Need" are possible from the land of overseas aid charities. We could take the jaundiced view that they are a competitor with an unfair advantage (massive free state advertising), that they are diverting resources away from Africa where the need is after all far greater towards projects the government should fund (we each have already paid a small fortune in taxes for the government to look after Britain's children). The argument continues that, as happened with the Big Lottery Fund, what started off as fundraising for charity has slipped into "good causes" and blurred into substitute taxation. Alternatively we could take the view that anything which causes people to stop and reflect on their own relative good fortune has to be a good thing. Britain's children are not, after all, to blame for mismanagement of the welfare state. And our natural donors are thoughtful people anyway who won't get easily distracted from what they want to support.
Obviously, I take the second of these viewpoints and every year get my credit card out to donate to Children in Need before I head to bed. I hope they break more records and I am sure they will help keep all sorts of small UK charities afloat at difficult times (BBC Children in Need do not have any projects of their own of course, they are a benevolent middle man). At SOS Children, even though we send over 80% of our income to the third world, we do care very much about the UK's children, in particular about the miserable state of those who do not have family to care about them. I do not want to get worked up about the wisdom of local government tendering out residential child care and so on so I will brush over it for now. Suffice to say my predecessors tried twice to build Children's Villages in the UK but always ran into opposition from unions who regarded our care model (each child gets one mother, resident with them throughout childhood, and who remains their mother for life) as an employment disaster compared to four carers working a shift rota. And for those who blame the EU I would only point out that there is an SOS Children's Village as near as Calais (funded by the French government of course) with a presidential derogation from the EU working time directive and rather better care for formerly abused children than we seem to manage here.
But back to our core purpose: looking after children in the developing world with no parents to care for them, Aids orphans, war orphans, children who have lost their families through earthquake, tsunami or war. How does BBC Children in Need help them? Directly, not at all since every penny gets used up in the UK. Indirectly? Yes, a little. I said above that "anything which causes people to stop and reflect on their own fortune has to be a good thing" and when Children in Need is on we do pick up slightly more child sponsorships than usual. From people presumably dis-satisfied with letting someone else choose what to do with their money and who go searching online for an alternative place to give. We do far better on Comic Relief night because people hear about how bad things are in Africa etc and look for ways to help Aids Orphans which skip the middle man (and fortunate that they do I guess because many people do not realise that a high percentage of Comic Relief is also used in the UK). Nonetheless we do pick up child sponsorships even during children in need night and we do join in the fun.