May 21, 2010

AUSTRALIA: The Cruelty of Kindness

SYDNEY, NSW / The Sydney Morning Herald / Society & Culture / Heckler / May 21, 2010

The Heckler, Sydney Morning Herald daily guest columnist
From the serious to the stupendous, controversial or trivial, all manner of issues are fertile ground for The Heckler. Issues considered off limits to others, are standard fare for the Heckler, whose daily reports add an authoratative and independent voice - championing cures for society's ills.

MY MOTHER is 86 with a rapidly fading short-term memory. In talking with friends who care for ageing parents I have found it is not unusual for elderly people to get agitated by anything out of the ordinary. In their frailty, they're also inclined not to turn down a plea for help and are thus a prime target for charitable donation-seekers and other businesses.

In the past fortnight I've had to call at least 10 businesses and charities to get Mum removed from mailing lists, to cancel appointments for so-called quotes and to reverse donations pledged. From the Guide Dogs to the RSPCA and Amnesty, many of the volunteer-based charities are admirable organisations reliant on public generosity. Mum has been pleased to support them in the past and they have been understanding and courteously responsive when I've called to have her taken off their lists.

Today alone, I found a pledge for $35 to the SES and an equal amount to an outfit noted in her diary as the Aust H'Don Assn – its identity is a mystery yet to be solved – and had mail from Amnesty and Guide Dogs. Four in one day – and that is not unusual.

Last week I had to cancel an appointment with a solar power company that was to come and quote on her retirement home residence. Then I had to ask the RSPCA not to expect payment for a set of birthday cards decorated by the faces of homeless pets which had arrived in the post with an invoice for $45. Mum had no idea why the cards were there. It is highly possible she had responded positively to an offer over the phone, but she had no recollection of the call.

At 86 she has done her bit. But it's worrying that she does not remember to whom she pledges funds or who has asked. She is at risk of writing cheques to the value of $100 or more each week depending on the request rate.

Charities need to be alert to this. And how a solar power company that was likely to charge thousands for unwanted services was able to canvass residents in a retirement village is beyond comprehension. They got a less polite call from me.

The do-not-call register does not eliminate bona fide charities. But there need to be checks and balances to prevent exploitation of the elderly and vulnerable, even from the most worthy of organisations. A cut-off age, for example, or an initial question that asks clearly if a person wishes to be removed from mailing lists or further calls.

Mum is protected by vigilant carers. I hate to think how others fare who are less fortunate. [rc]

Margie Cook

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