CHARLES GRAHAM - Some people still spread the wealth

WE should never under-estimate how big and positive an impact on history, health and social evolution philanthropists have made.

Wealthy capitalists have received a rough ride through the ages, no more so than of late when you consider folk like Fred the Shred and these petroleum company bosses with their seven-figure salaries.

But they are not all just lining their pockets handsomely at the expense of the proletariat.

In fact some of my all-time heroes are chaps who have made it good and then, rather than just wallow in their own affluence, have put much of it to good use to improve the lot in life of the less unfortunate.

Many came from ages long before the Welfare State was around to offer any kind of safety net to those on low wages.

Titus Salt and Robert Owen emancipated their workforces from the slums by creating whole townships, including schools, shops, churches, sanitation and health facilities, around their mills in Bradford and New Lanark respectively.

If anything William Lever (later Lord Leverhulme) took things further. Port Sunlight on the Wirral, with its beautiful village of quality semi-detached homes (no pairs architecturally identical), art gallery and so on, is a wonder to behold and well worth a day out for Wiganers. And, notwithstanding the creaking benefits system now in place, so philanthropy continues to this day.

Bill Gates, for many years the richest man in the world, is these days as famous for his charity work and medical missions as he is for turning Microsoft into a global phenomenon.

His latest project of benevolence is to wipe out polio, a dream rendered nightmarish in Pakistan by Muslim extremists who have murdered several of his workers and told the locals that it is some kind of US state-sponsored act of mass-sterilisation. Faced with that kind of anti-publicity campaign and outright barbarism, Mr Gates has a tall order in front of him.

Meanwhile David Beckham caused surprise and delight the other day in announcing that he plans to give all of the wage he earns from playing for new club Paris St Germain to a children’s charity.

He’s not short of a bob or two and some cynics will say he can afford to do it and has probably done it for the publicity.

But, call me naive if you like, I see it simply as an act of kindness that comes right from the tradition of Owen, Salt and Leverhulme.

It’s a great example to set and here’s hoping that other people at the top of the money pile will follow suit.