Edward West says the Lottery passes money from the gullible to the undeserving.
So, should we really complain when the winner turns out to be a convicted rapist?
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, though that should not worry new Lotto winner Iorworth Hoare too much having chalked up one rape, two attempted rapes and three sexual assaults in his career, he was certainly not down on the guest list to start with. But his time on earth will certainly be easier – earlier this month, through sheer chance, and the numbers 2, 5, 7, 18, 28 and 38, Hoare won £7 million.
Understandably, the tabloids have gone into a rage, reflecting genuine public anger that this man was allowed to purchase his ticket while on day release (when he would have been banned from entering a bookmakers).
The Daily Mirror published a particularly harrowing account from one of Hoare’s victims, who was raped on Mothering Sunday, 1982, and has never recovered, either emotionally or physically. “Why should he be allowed to look forward to a life of luxury when he has left me, and people like me, with a hell in their minds?” she said. “It makes a mockery of what the Lottery is supposed to stand for.” Actually, it is exactly what the National Lottery does stand for. It is about transferring money from the gullible and the foolish and handing it to the undeserving.
There is much that annoys me about this institution – the dislikeable winners, the dubious organisations and the “charities” it funds. Nothing, however, sickens me more than the adverts. The latest shows a miserable looking man “who couldn’t be bothered to buy his Lottery ticket”. Then there were the previous adverts, which had the gall to show some of the good causes that the Lottery funds. Tax on cigarettes pays for much of the National Health Service, yet I cannot imagine Benson and Hedges being allowed to film footage of a new ward it had helped to pay for, in a bid to promote its own cancer-producing product.
Hoare is not the first “undeserving winner”: the most recent bad boy was Michael Carroll, the 21-year-old Norfolk dustman who scooped £9.7 million in November 2002 while wearing an electronic tag for being drunk and disorderly, criminal damage and aggravated vehicle damage. Since then, Carroll has become something of a tabloid folk villain, chalking up 30 court appearances including a conviction for drug offences. Carroll seems to have squandered most of his winnings on parties, alcohol and drugs, although it was the £70,000 he spent on vulgar jewellery, and on high-cost but low class designer clothes, that most offended public sensibilities. Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham fumed: “Winning the lottery isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, and privilege entails responsibility.” But would someone who has earned such a fortune through no deed of their own feel any sense of responsibility at all?
Carroll, who did at any rate buy a villa each for his mum and uncle and auntie, was not in Hoare’s league. Nor were the other Lotto lags, such as Lee Ryan, jailed for 18 months for handling stolen goods after winning £6.5 million, or Paul Clark of Glasgow who shared a £850,000 win two days after being convicted of supplying heroin. There are around half a dozen more convict winners that the press knows about, although doubtless there are others with the good sense to remain quiet.
But what about the good causes? The satisfying decline in Lottery sales, down from an early peak of 70 million to 40 million a week, has been blamed on public dissatisfaction over where the money is going. The Community Fund, the public body responsible for handing out donations, has been criticised from the start. In the early days it was opera funding or the Millennium Dome (£603 million) that were the cause of anger, though in recent years, the cash seems to have found its way towards more political organisations. The Daily Mail persuaded 100,000 of its readers to protest after it was revealed that, while veterans groups were receiving £1 million, organisations helping asylum seekers got £60 million. Then there was the Midlothian Young People’s Advice Service, richer to the tune of £276,545 and responsible for giving the pill to girls as young as 12.
These are the inevitable conse quences of a lottery that treats a huge chunk of tax revenue as beer money. The Community Fund, which is to be renamed the New Opportunities Fund, has often seemed to regard the money like a student with his first loan – it might as well all go on beer. The name change is significant – failing bodies regularly alter their title.
Back in 1995, soon after the lottery’s launch, a cross-denominational statement condemned it as a tax on the poor. In July of that year the General Assembly of United Reformed Churches agreed. And the Church of Scotland expressed concern that it may be “the thin end of the wedge”, which proved right. In 1997, the midweek draw was launched causing Catholic Church spokesman Father Tom Connolly to point out: “All the Churches are agreed it is sheer greed by the organisers.” In 1999 a daily lottery was launched by Littlewoods in Scotland, leading Connolly to add; “People who have little will try to increase what they have got.” Yet by then the Lotto’s tentacles were already at work in both of Scotland’s national churches. Ten Anglican cathedrals applied for Lottery funds in 1996 alone, while the Church of Scotland Assembly in 1998 accepted Lottery funds, after a church in Dumbarton had already agreed to £500,000.
I am seriously considering becoming an outspoken critic of the National Lottery just in case the Community Fund decides my home is a national treasure worthy of a restoration grant.
So let us hope that some good comes from Hoare’s win. I sincerely hope his victims can come by his money, but I have my doubts. With any luck, this particular win will turn the public against the lottery, and remind them that it is not about good causes, which receive £361 million a year, but about winning, worth over £2 billion a year.
I pay my income and council taxes even though I disagree with much government spending; but you can choose not to play the Lottery. If people do continue, let the money go directly to income tax, and put a picture of Gordon Brown on every ticket, just to remind us who the winner really is.