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I, Robot - Daleks from the BBC TV series Dr Who
Last updated January 2016

I, Robot

In a world where 65 people seem to own most of the planet, Dominic Fox considers some radical alternatives to income and work inequality

You do not need me to tell that 2016 has got off to a rocky start.

As the high and mighty gathered for the annual World Economic Forum in Davos in January all thoughts of kicking back and leisurely contemplating a bit of blue sky thinking soon faded as the FTSE 100 was gripped by panic selling, especially of mining and oil companies that have been hit hard by the global slowdown in manufacturing and trade.

The meeting coincided with “Blue Monday”, allegedly the most depressing day of the year where ordinary mortals feel miserable because Christmas is over, the credit card bills are arriving, it is dark when you go to work in the morning and it’s also dark when you head home. This year it seems to have even infected the 65 or so people who according to Oxfam own most of the world.

It is more than 80 years since financial markets have had such a miserable start to the year. The gloomy mood was summed up by RBS, which predicted a “cataclysmic year” in which stock markets could fall by as much as 20% and advised clients to sell everything apart from high-grade bonds. RBS backed this up with some impressive research. They have worked out that 18 months ago a barrel of oil bought you a bottle of Pol Roger 2004 champagne. Today it gets you Tesco Finest.

All eyes are currently on China where the iron grip of government is failing to control its stock exchange and stimulate its economy. That 40 years after the death of Chairman Mao, China under the control of a communist government was almost singlehandedly responsible for economic recovery after the crash of 2008 defies belief.

Back in Davos they were meant to be looking into the glorious opportunities afforded by the coming “fourth industrial revolution”. Previous ones were caused by the introduction of steam power, electricity and electronics. Participants were asked to consider the rise of the robots and what it means for every aspect of human lives from jobs to the environment.

Davos looks not unlike the winter lair of evil masterminds who might expect to benefit from the development of a robot workforce and UBS confirmed as much saying the richest stand to gain more from the introduction of new technology than those in poorer sections of society.

Considering whether these changes are for the better or worse puts me in mind of those celebrated baddies, the Daleks, merciless cyborg aliens bent on conquest of the universe and the extermination of what they see as inferior races with their chilling cry: “Exterminate!”

Naturally this is going to affect more than cleaners and assembly line workers. It could mean that it’s curtains for whole swathes of white collar jobs. The concept of a “world without work” suddenly becomes rather intensely personal for the middle classes. A serious issue for all of us given that some experts reckon one in two jobs could eventually be taken by intelligent automation.

More than 7m jobs are at risk in the world’s largest economies over the next five years as technological advances in fields such as robotics and 3D printing transform the world of work. Women will lose out because they are less likely to be employed in the areas where jobs will be created. Whilst job losses seems to fall more or less equally on women (48%) and men (52%), men represent a larger share of the overall job market than women and this even spread translates into a widening of the employment gender gap, with women losing five jobs for every job gained compared with men losing three jobs for every job gained.

Healthcare is expected to suffer the highest number of job losses in the next five years, followed jointly by energy and financial services. The industry expected to create the most jobs is information and communication technology, followed by professional services, and media, entertainment and information professions. So, if your new year’s resolution was to start an evening class you know what to choose.

It has long been a utopian dream that machines will free us from the economic serfdom of endless housework and slaving in tortuous manual labour. A dream that always seems just out of our grasp. If this march of the robots actually does come about it will have some serious consequences, possible mass unemployment and unless economic inequality is addressed, social and political discontent.

One idea that may help address these issues has recently surfaced again, that of a guaranteed Citizen’s income. It was first proposed by Thomas Paine in his 1797 pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, as a system in which at the “age of majority” everyone would receive an equal capital grant, a “basic income” handed over by the state to each and all, no questions asked, to do with what they wanted.

According to Paul Mason, economics editor at Channel 4 News, it has a long history of support in economic thinking, with proponents on both the left and the right. For conservatives it is a way of radically cutting the administrative costs of means-tested benefits, and subsidising low-paid work. For those on the left, who embraced it after the 1960s, it is seen as a way to alleviate inequality.

The Finnish government and local authorities in Holland are considering plans to introduce a national basic income. It would mean scrapping all existing benefits and instead handing out about £650 per month to everyone who would be able to keep any earnings they make from work on top of that.

I suspect the political will to experiment with such ideas will be based on whether recipients of state and taxpayer largesse sit at home all day watching Jeremy Kyle or being inspired to further increase their incomes and contribute to the common good through entrepreneurial activities.

Perhaps the masterminds in their Davos lair could re-programme those Daleks: “EXTERMINATE POVERTY!-EXTERMINATE INEQUALITY!”

Read more

La La Land

As Brexit and the Trump era loom large, Dominic Fox examines wealth and philanthropy in the new world order.

La La Land - Still from the motion picture

Is This What It’s Going to Be Like?

Dominic Fox discusses the fallout from controversies around the US presidential candidates’ charitable foundations.

Is This What It’s Going to Be Like? - A porttrait of Donald Trump looking serious

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Dominic Fox discusses tidal changes in the approach to social justice and practical campaigns to help those living in poverty.

Poverty - Pensioner's hand holding a collection of British coins

The world transformed

Dominic Fox considers whether empathy and expertise are missing in the current political climate, both in the UK and the US.

The World Transformed - President Vladimir Putin meets Pope Francis

A Leap in the dark

Taking sides: poverty and inequality lead to political unrest.

A Leap in the dark - A nighttime view of the London skyline

Situation (Pretty) Vacant

Recent departures at the top of charitable organisations leave big gaps to be filled, says Dominic Fox.

Situation Vacant - John Lydon during filming for a butter commercial

An Inspector Calls

Attempts to tackle corruption and fraud may have unexpected consequences for charities.

An Inspector Calls - Montage of baordroom image and Perer Sellers as Inspector Clouseau

The Dog that Didn’t Bark

In the light of the Whittingdale scandal, can charities rely on IPSO to represent them fairly?

The Dog that Didn’t Bark - Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson look surprised

The Tower of Babel

Turmoil in the government leads to uncertainty over benefits for the disabled and uncertainty over Brexit for referendum voters

The Tower of Babel - A pair of blueboxing gloves, one with the EU flag and the other with the UK Union flag

Earthly Delights

Dominic Fox discusses the impact of social changes on people from the Greatest Generation to the new Generation Z

The Garden of Earthly Delights - Detail from the painting by Hieronymous Bosch

The Golden Chain

As hundreds of new charities pop up around conflict zones, charities must think carefully about where how they make funding decisions.

The Golden Chain - Woman studies a wall board covered with photos of A-Quaeda members

How the Other Half Lives

Dominic Fox joins the dots between the recession, oil prices, and the psychological suffering of the very rich.

How the other half lives - Richard Branson sprays a bottle of champagne across the nose of a new private jet

The Invisible Hand

Dominic Fox explains the good and bad news about workers' pay rising to meet the living wage, as politicians fight it out to prove who thought of it first.

Unintended Consequences - Closeup of nurse fanning out a small wad of banknotes

Crisis? What crisis?

Dominic Fox weighs the need for fundraising activities against maintaining the goodwill of the British public. As heated discussion surrounds comments from the fundraising regulatory body, what's the best approach for charities?

Crisis? What crisis? - Oxfam street fundraiser approaching two shoppers

Mystery of Picasso

Dominic Fox discusses the connection between multi-million dollar paintings and income inequality. Are the real victims the top 10%?

The Women of Algiers - Pcasso's painting being auctioned at Christie's in New York

The Columnist Manifesto

Dominic Fox considers the outcome of the General Election – but does not tell you how to vote.

The Columnist Manifesto - The painting 'Chairing the Member' by William Hogarth

The Big Sleep

Dominic Fox raises concerns about an epidemic of sleepwalking, affecting unfortunate villagers in Kazakhstan - and UK voters

The Big Sleep - Man ying on pavement asleep

The Filthy Hand

Dominic Fox considers the differences between Russell Brand and a bench of Bishops

The hearty shake of the filthy hand - Russell Brand holding a skull and looking thoughtful

A Matter of Life or Death

Dominic Fox, ACO chief Executive ponders some of the challenges facing us in 2015

Matter of life or death - Asterod impact on the earth's surface, as seen from space

High Noon

ACO's CEO, Dominic Fox, considers the role of statutory regulation, public confidence in the charitable sector and hidden agendas.

High Noon - Silhouette of a man wearing a stetson hat

Things Fall Apart

George Osborne is on the warpath. Specifically he has been playing “war games” with his chums at the International Monetary Fund headquarters in DC on how to deal with the hypothetical possibility that the world banking system goes into meltdown again.

Things Fall apart - Speakers platform at the IMF conference

A tale of two cities

Governments are printing money ,but there are increasing worries that in the longer term this might not be enough. When it works, it is a good example of the City and Westminster working together for the public good.

A tale of two cities - Banksy Graffiti

Keep the Safety Net

As David Cameron heeds the advice of Barack Obama to take time off and think about the bigger issues, Dominic Fox encourages him to contemplate the provision of essential safety nets that prevent people falling into debt and despair.

Keep the Safety Net - A blue safety net in a childrens playground


This month we contemplate the Queens Speech, the proposed Protection Of Charities Blll, new appointments at the Charities Commission and the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

Superman - The comic book hero flies through the air

The Right to be Forgotten

While the European Court discusses the right to be forgotten, we analyse the negative portrayal of voluntary organisations in the media, and attempts to re-balance this with positive news stories

The right to be forgotten - A bank of microphones in front of a speakers podium

All That Is Solid Melts into Air

Despite good news from the CBI about the economy, Dominic Fox investigates the continuing criticisms of the capitalist system, salaries and payoffs for those at the top and the state of management of our largest companies

Blog Article May 2014 - Bronze statue of bull representing the good times in the stock market

Claiming the Moral High Ground

Dominic Fox comments on the Government's efforts towards welfare reform against the backdrop of increasing hardship and calls for more urgent action.

Claiming the moral high ground - Image showing Jenga blocks precariously balanced

Shoot the Messenger

Dominic Fox analyses the latest efforts by charities to raise awareness of their cause against the backdrop of the digital age, and dwells upon the recent misfortune of the Pancreatic Cancer Action charity

Blog Article March 2014 - One of Pancreatic Cancer Action's adverts

Only Fools & Horses

Dominic Fox takes a look at the erosion of the charity sector, unhelpful interventions by local and national politicians, and the effect of the looming bill to curb lobbying on charities

Blog Article February 2014 - Raindrops falling down glass with woman walking outside holding an umbrella

A Voice in the Wilderness

Not unlike a latter-day St Jerome, William Shawcross has reached the stage of contemplation and questioning in his tenure at the Charity Commission. He should be warned what happened to the saint of old, exiled to the wilderness for a prolonged period of penitence with only a friendly lion and scripture for company.

A voice in the wilderness - Classical painting by Caragaggio depicting St Jerome in the company of a skull as he writes at his desk

Wild World

I am guessing it is unlikely that you checked under your car this morning for explosives? Or that you vary your route to work to avoid being kidnapped. Plenty of people, aid workers, journalists, service personnel and other potential “targets” do so every day.

Wild world - Patient lies on hospital gurney being oevrseen by nurse

Chilling with Dave

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill has a slightly Orwellian sound to it, don’t you think? Still, that is its proper name and we are not taking the risk of thinking up some smart aleck, popularist title for it like the ‘Chilling of Debate Bill’, as this has a habit of upsetting some people. It has though, been one of those pieces of legislation that seems to have got a lot of backs up.

Chilling With Dave - David Cameron looking worried

In deepest Wonga Wonga land

The press have been on the warpath again. The silly season was characterised by a great deal of negativity about foreign aid that provided a cover for all sorts of largely unspoken concern about migration and globalisation, and functioned as a useful insight into the preparations the fourth estate is making to influence public debate in the run-up to the next election.

In Deepest Wonga Land - Smug executive smoking a cigar

Best Left Alone

The Cabinet Office has launched a new project: the Good Law initiative is “an appeal to everyone interested in the making and publishing of law to come together with a shared objective of making legislation work well for the users of today and tomorrow”. Hurrah we cry! Better late than never. If only someone had thought of this earlier, the Statute of Elizabeth in 1601 would have defined public benefit once and for all.

Best Left Alone - Great Dane lies sleeping

Sharp Practice

The Queen’s speech comes around every year and never fails to impress, with the traditional pomp and ceremony of a great state occasion. One cannot but feel sympathy for Her Majesty having to utter lines like “in relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace”. At this time in the cycle Governments are often accused of playing it safe, as they seem to have been this year. With two years until the next election this is perhaps the prudent course.

Things not to do before you die

Put your money in a bank / Prepare for Scottish Independence / Live in Lewisham

Things not to do before you die - Crowd waving Scottish flag

Doing what it says on the can

What would you say to a week-long bank holiday? Perhaps rightly an employer or politician that offered workers such a deal would be regarded with suspicion, or a gesture of a finger turning into one’s head. Most sensible people would expect there to be some sort of catch, some sort of comeback on such an apparent offer of generosity. As citizens of Greek Cyprus have indeed discovered, the free lunch comes with a hefty service charge.

Old Dogs, New Tricks

Older workers who take courses to keep their skills up to date will be more likely to keep their jobs, claims David Willetts, the higher education minister. Mr Willetts said the age limit on student loans to cover tuition fees had been lifted, making a degree course “great value” for older people.

Old Dogs New Tricks - Portrait of older construction worker

You've Got a Friend

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The Cold War

A chill wind is blowing across Britain. It heeds no mortal command, no man or woman seemingly able to stop its remorseless progress. Its icy blasts are felt in high streets across the land, in Threadneedle Street in the City of London, it blows unchecked down Downing Street in the political heart of the nation.

The Cold War - Sea of umbrellas during heavy rain

Another One Bites the Dust

In charity fundraisingland November is Movember. “MoBro” participants start the month clean shaven and must grow and groom a moustache in the following 30 days. What I ponder is it about charities and facial hair? You may have missed that September 5th was “Freddie for a Day” which raises funds by persuading people to dress up as the deceased glam rocker Freddie Mercury for a day and encourage friends to sponsor you. The initiative has raised over $15 million to help in the fight against AIDS worldwide. That’s pretty serious money and I judge you have never heard of it, which suggests there is an awful lot more charity money being raised by celebrity endorsement.

Another One Bites The Dust - George Clooney being arrested for protesting at Sudan rally

The Enemy Within

Make no mistake about it; welfare reform is politics in the raw. An increasingly bitter row has broken out in both Whitehall and Westminster about the future of public spending and in particular cuts on benefits. Slugging it out in the media bear pit is the Chancellor George Osborne, on the ropes from his booing at the Paralympics and Iain Duncan Smith the un-reshuffled Secretary of State for Work and pensions.

The Enemy Within - Ian Duncan-Smith walks past a group of protesters against welfare cuts

Burying Bad News

Behind the scenes and across the country, many charity managers and trustees are quietly engaging in the annual ritual in myth making and storytelling that is presentation of the annual report. We are lucky that the Charity Commission publishes these documents on its website free for all to read and marvel at. It brings a degree of scrutiny and transparency to our sector that is admirable. The narrative which compliments the financial accounts is every organisation’s opportunity to set up its stall and report on the previous period of activity.

The In Crowd

I was listening to Julia Hobsbawm on the Today programme the other day. She was talking about networking which has been given official recognition with a visiting professorship at our old friends the Cass Business School. What she said struck a chord: that networking is increasingly important in our professional lives and everybody should be doing it.

The In Crowd - Silhouette crowd of people with two men in foreground shaking hands

Waving not drowning

This month I want to bang on about the terrible job the Government is making of running the country. The economy is stuck in a rut, Ministers grimly hanging onto their jobs under a hail of criticism and I still can’t leave the house without encountering miles of road-humps in every direction. It’s too hot and I’ve had enough.

End of The Big Society?

A month on, the budget seems a very long time away in politics. ACO have joined with other sector bodies to lobby HM Treasury on the negative implications of what is now widely known as the “charity tax”, a cap on tax relief, leading to a fear that donors will start restricting and curtailing large donations.

Big Society - David cameron looking worried in front of a poster for Big Society Network

The Waste Land

According to TS Eliot “April is the cruellest month”. I suspect this rather suits curmudgeonly Brits as we look out over our own personal version of the waste land post budget. But this is no time to tarry over doom and gloom, there are officially sanctioned celebrations planned!

The Waste Land - Photo of man surrounded by umbrellas

Happy Bunnies

In the Northern hemisphere, the beginning of spring is 1st March. In the unlikely event you are reading this in the southern hemisphere, happy autumn!

Year of The Dragon

It has been exactly a year since I sat first in the Chief Executive’s chair at ACO and quite a lot has happened. 2012 is the Chinese year of the dragon, bringing success and happiness that I hope you will share this year.

The Year Of The Dragon - Illustration of the year in numerals crafted from folded paper in bright colours

Dear Minister

The Association of Charitable Organisations welcomes your open letter to civil society dated 11th October 2011, in which you updated us on the strategic framework underpinning policy towards the charitable sector. We agree that the country faces serious economic and social challenges and that these are linked. ACO members are dealing directly, practically and positively with the effects of austerity, by providing millions of pounds a year in grants and providing vital welfare support and advice to thousands of people in need.

Misunderstood and Unheralded

ACO has seen a couple of interventions into our sphere of influence in the last weeks, and they rather expose the twin curses that afflict benevolence: namely that it has been our lot to be generally misunderstood and your considerable impact largely unheralded.

Misunderstood and unheralded - Photo of woman with umbrella looking towards a rainbow

Do we need a Plan B?

One of the benefits for those of us having been around for a while is that we can blithely assume we have seen it all before. Whilst I cannot claim to remember the 1930s, I did live through periods of great financial austerity in the seventies and eighties. But I am not sure I have seen anything in my lifetime that resembles the current situation. Financial crisis is a game changer that tests our institutions and ways of doing things. Or at least it should.

The Silly Season

As the summer draws to a close and the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, draws in, the world returns from a period of rest and respite. If you think that you must have had an excellent break. Events over the summer were perhaps best described by the man in the Mac cartoon who says as he pitches up at the News of the World office “anything happen whilst I was away?”

The Grown-Up Brain

I have just ordered a new book from Amazon. Being of a certain age I got off to a slow start with the on line ordering process; what password did I create for this account? If this sounds like you then I have good news.

Changing Times

Our 65th year is proving to be a time of change. The recent annual general meeting was an opportunity for the organisation to take stock and indicate the broad direction of future travel.

Lord Wei steps down

News that Lord Wei is stepping down as the government’s adviser on the big society, after less than a year, raises more unwelcome questions for the Prime Minister about his pet project.

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