THE last thing I feel at the cash-point is charitable. Grumpy, resentful, worried and stressed, especially after Christmas, but not remotely disposed to give anyone else my cash. Sorry if that sounds mean, but at this time of year, and with wage cuts and the VAT rise upon us, every penny counts more than ever.
It is bad enough working out just how much cash you can afford to get out, without feeling compelled to donate to charity every time you type in your pin number. Yet, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has come up with the idea of asking us to give money to good causes every time we go to the cash-point or buy something in a shop or online. Great timing, Mr Maude. He reckons it will give us a "warm glow". I reckon it will give us communal apoplexy.
I don't know about you, but I like to choose my charities of my own free will. I wish I was a better (and richer) person, and could donate more, but what I do have, I like to give to something – or someone – who I know will really benefit from my little contribution.
I hand over a modest sum every month to my old college towards a fund to help working class students study at Oxford. And get me in a WRVS shop and you can't get me out until I've bought at least three paperback books, because I value the hospital work these ladies do, volunteers all.
That's the "Big Society" already in action by the way, in case the Government hasn't noticed.
But if it's one thing I hate, it's being guilt-tripped. That's why I give a wide berth to those individuals who hang around cash-points begging with their plastic cups and doe-eyed dogs on bits of string. They assume that anyone with the wherewithal to withdraw cash for the necessities of life also has some spare to bestow on any hard-luck cases who cross their path.
What the Government is proposing is nothing better than licensed begging.
I can't help but wonder what proportion of profit would end up being siphoned off from this scheme for overheads, administration, etc, etc. I'm assuming that all the cash collected would go into a central pot, but the last thing specialist charities need is the dead hand of government telling them how to run their budgets. And that doesn't even begin to attempt the questionable morality of asking the public to donate their own money in order to make up the shortfall causing by massive public spending cuts.
It also makes me wonder, for the millionth time, just what planet certain members of this coalition Government are living on. In their world, they might have a few spare pounds to donate to deserving causes every day, but in my world – and I suspect in yours – it just doesn't work like that.
Francis Maude says it is all to do with helping to create the "Big Society", but doesn't he realise that for most of us, contributing to this imagined utopia would be nigh on impossible?
It's like he and his colleagues are living in a parallel universe, and it does seriously concern me that they appear to have no idea whatsoever of the financial realities of life for millions of ordinary people.
"Out of touch" doesn't even begin to cover it. And although Mr Maude says it is all about rolling back the hand of the State and supporting volunteers to provide services, it seems to me to be the very opposite.
A nationwide edict to donate will surely benefit only the largest of voluntary organisations, and leave the smaller charities trailing in their wake. As any campaigner will tell you, people only have so much to give.
If they can hand over any spare cash they might happen to find themselves with at the touch of a button, they won't have any left over to pop into a collecting tin or buy a raffle ticket. It is often these smaller charities, such as animal shelters and hospices, which need direct injections of cash to spend immediately on benefiting those who come to them for care.
And to be honest, these proposals are an insult. We Brits are already one of the most generous nations on earth when it comes to donating to charity, ranking only behind the United States in our philanthropy. According to government figures, we give five times more than the French and more than three times as much as the Germans. That said, those with the least money donate the highest proportion of their income, and only 100 wealthy individuals made charitable donations of more than 1m in 2009.
Surely, the Government should target those who have the most money, and make it easier – through taxation and other clever incentives – for wealthy individuals to donate generously and to set up charitable foundations. But as with tackling the bankers and their huge bonuses, yet again, Ministers refuse to engage with the big boys, and instead decide to squeeze the rest of us as dry as the left-over turkey.