Charities have good reason to frighten us

The GP and author Margaret McCartney unleashed a no-holds-barred attack on health charities this week in the Times. And I wasn’t entirely convinced by all of her arguments. 

Due to a paywall I can’t link to the article here, but, briefly, a few of her criticisms included the fact that some charities are giving out “alarmist and misleading” information to grab our attention; that too many young women are being used on breast cancer awareness posters; and that charities push “emotive case studies” at journalists.

Basically, according to McCartney: “We are being frightened, not informed.”

The thing is, and to be fair McCartney gives a token mention to sentiments of this kind at the beginning of her piece, we live in a world where charities have to act like this to ever get our attention or, harder still, any donations from us.

We live in a world where any piece of good news is not deemed exciting enough to reach even page 30 of our newspapers. Where we are bombarded by thousands of ads every day, to the point that most of the time we no longer even consciously notice them.

As well as all of this, charities have plenty of competition among themselves, with figures from the Charity Commission website telling us there are over 160,000 registered charities in England and Wales alone.

In these circumstances a charity can’t exactly put an ad up on the tube that says: “There’s only a slight chance that you or your close relatives could get cancer. In fact you’re more likely to get hit by a bus. But why not give us some of your hard-earned cash anyway, just in case?”

I do understand that there are dangers involved in trusted sources of information, like charities, not giving us accurate statistics, or misleading us. But I do not believe for even a moment that the information given by organisations like Breakthrough Breast Cancer is anything like reaching the point of dangerous.

In fact, if we’re going to start going down this route, the Daily Mail should be first on the hit list, not some highly respected, invaluable health charity that is fighting a hard, competitive fight to get us to notice some truly life-saving messages.

And I would personally much rather live in a society where if, god forbid, my best friend, or my mother or my grandmother were in the slightest bit concerned about their health they would go and see their GP right away, rather than in one where they wait because it has been drummed into them that you only have a one in eight chance of getting breast cancer, and that is assuming you reach 85 years old, so don’t you worry too much.

It’s all very well criticising charities for exaggerating the facts slightly, or pointing us to the worst rather than best case scenario, but there really is no alternative in the society we live in. Circumstances cannot just be put aside when you hit out at a organisation for its behaviour – they are often the very reasons for that behaviour.

By Sophie Hudson

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