Charity Commission chair slams 'shameful' lack of giving among top earners

Charity Commission chair Orlando Fraser has urged the UK’s top earners to be more generous in their giving.

He is concerned giving by the UK’s top 1% is lagging behind other countries, when their funding is needed more than ever amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Compared to Canada and New Zealand, the UK has a “philanthropic deficit” of £5bn a year, said Fraser, which rises to £19bn a year when compared to philanthropic giving in the US.

“This is disappointing enough, but it verges on shameful when you consider how vibrant giving and volunteering are amongst the less fortunate of their fellow UK citizens,” said Fraser, during a speech at the Beacon Philanthropy Forum in London this week.

He is concerned by evidence that “the rich have become proportionally less generous”.

A report by think tank Pro Bono Economics last year found that the incomes for the top 1% of UK earners group 10% in real terms between 2011 and 2019. However, over the same period their typical donation fell by over 20% to just £48 a month.

Another concern is that the bulk of the £2-3bn given by the top earners in the UK each year, is from just a fifth of this group of rich people.

“So 80% of the top 1% are not contributing meaningfully to that figure,” said Fraser.

As well as “shaming the rich into giving”, Fraser also called on people to “salute the greatest givers and thereby encourage others to join their ranks”.

He added: “I do believe that, over recent years, there has been an unhelpful tendency to malign philanthropy and philanthropists.

“We have a culture in which people are scrutinised because they are giving and giving publicly. We have seen scrutiny that supposes giving must be motivated by cynicism, by an attempt to ‘whitewash’ a bad reputation, or to obscure nefarious deeds, or to increase an individual’s power. This feels misguided.

“Those with means hold more power than those without. Donating a proportion of that wealth to charitable causes is an exercise of that power, certainly. But it is one that serves to empower others, too.

“Giving is good for those who give, it is good for those who benefit, and it is good for society as a whole.”

During his speech he noted rising demand on charity services, particularly food banks, amid the cost-of-living crisis.

“But many charities in turn are struggling, affected by rising costs, rising demand, and the risk of dwindling income as ordinary donors tighten their belts,” he said.

“And inflationary pressures mean that donations are worth less and less.

“It is too early for the impact of the current crisis to filter through to stark sector-wide statistics, such as large numbers of charities winding up and coming off the register. But the anecdotal evidence of its impact is all around us.”

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