A former colleague of mine tweeted about this Civil Society article last week where the chair of the Philanthropy Review called for the UK to mimic US charitable giving.
For those of you who don’t know, the US are a very charitable culture with a long established reputation of the rich giving vast sums of money to support everything from the arts to universities – and everything in between. And of course, the reasons the UK is keen to promote and adopt the model is the dire situation we find our economy in. But, first of all, the US have a tax system that is very nice to donors where there are substantial benefits to be had from giving money to charity. The UK doesn’t and, in the current austere climate, how likely is it that the government will forgoe some of the tax they take from people?
And secondly, surely it’s all to do with culture? The culture in the UK is completely different to the US. We don’t have a long established reputation for supporting charities through donations – we have tended to provide (or at least consider that we provide) our support through the tax system with the government taxing our income to pay for universities, schools, arts organisations and the like. Of course, with the huge deficit, the tax system is finding it can’t ‘do it all’.
It’s clear that something has to give but I’m not sure that – even if we were to adopt the US model – it would happen quickly enough to support our already strapped for cash charitable sector. So the big question is, who is going to support it in the meantime? Or are we just going to watch good charities go to the wall with the government blaming us for not being more charitable and us blaming the government for continuing to spend on unpopular areas while cutting others? One thing’s for sure, I don’t think the answer to the question is going to be painless.