Back in December 2010 I was somewhat scathing about the Government’s Green Paper on ‘Giving’ so seeing that the White Paper has now been published I thought I’d cast my eye over it and see what – if anything – has changed in the intervening 21 weeks and 5 days.
The document opens with the two ministers in charge of the ‘Big Society’ initiative – Francis Maude and Nick Hurd – saying that the British give more than £10bn (or approximately £160 a person) each year to charities. I shall, for the moment, assume that they mean voluntary donations and that said amount doesn’t include all the money given to fake charities by the taxpayer involuntarily.
If the public give so much to charity on an annual basis, then you might be forgiven for wondering why exactly the government feels the need get itself involved. Don’t worry you aren’t alone as your host is wondering exactly the same thing. Our ministers, without a sense of irony, attempt to explain:
Despite a long history of government interventions, the giving of both time and money has flat-lined, and some in the voluntary sector warn of decline. […] We believe we can help to change this. Our ambition is to stimulate a step change in giving. This is a long-term project which requires a new approach that learns lessons from the past. Government needs to work more closely with business and charities.
I suppose it is too much to hope, having spotted that previous government interventions haven’t apparently helped, that the option of less government intervention was even considered?
No, I didn’t think so either as it seems that they have come down on the side of yet more government intervention. And that is without mentioning the presence of phrase ‘learns lessons from the past’ – something that is enough to send shivers down the spine given how often its variant ‘lessons will be learnt’ crops up in the aftermath of reports into public sector foul-ups.
The ministers go on to state:
Together we have to make it easier and more compelling for people to give time and money and so make the change they want to see.
I wasn’t aware that it was difficult to give money to charity and would expect that any organisation worth their salt has already made it easy to donate by all possible means. I will however agree that the giving of one’s time is somewhat difficult and something that would generally appear to be the preserve of those who don’t (whatever the circumstances) have to spend the majority of the week trying to earn a crust.
But enough of the fluff. What has the paper actually got to say for itself?
The rational for this whole exercise is that it seems that levels of giving have flatlined in recent years. This is probably even true given the economic situation as those with common sense will reign in non-critical spending (and arguably charity falls under this heading) until such time as they feel more able to donate.
However in order to make it easier for us to give of our time and money the following items, many of which build upon things talked about in the consultation paper, are mentioned. I have broken the list up in to two groupings for the sake of convenience.
Cash Point Giving
From 2012 LINK cash machines will offer users the option to donate when they are withdrawing money. Rather than interfere with the withdrawal process, it will be offered as another menu item alongside the usual ones of cash, balance etc. Whilst this sounds like an unobtrusive and thus perfectly reasonable approach I am concerned however that the list of charities to which one may donate will be down to the operator of the individual cash points. Call me cynical but I foresee howling from smaller organisations if they aren’t on the list or, are on the list but no-one knows who they are resulting in money going to the recognisable name instead.
Someone has taken the old adage of ‘looking after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’ and translated that into a shiny new way of fleecing the punter. The paper highlights two schemes that are already in existence:
- The Pennies Foundation in whereby “three-quarters of funds raised by this initiative are directed to a charity or charities chosen by the retailer, and the rest is distributed to ten other ‘UK people charities’ representing popular causes”.
- Give Change, Make Change where the money is evenly split between British Red Cross, Great Ormond Street Hospital, WWF and Cancer Research UK. Hum, I think we can all play spot the fake charity there.
What you apparently can’t do with any of these schemes however is give solely to a charity of your choice.
Companies such as Vodafone, Orange and Blackberry have come up with some practical ways it seems to give time and/or money via the mobile.
- Vodafone has teamed up with JustGiving to ‘allows charities and individuals to raise money using text messages in a way that is free to set up and run with all funds raised going to charity’.
- Orange have developed an app that allows people to be charities’ eyes and ears, share ideas, take part in research or use their skills for the charity.
- Via Blackberry Messenger a charity can create a unique PIN number to identify themselves within BBM. Users can then connect with that organisation via BBM and carry out a variety of tasks.
On the surface all of those sound quite workable and, importantly, allow the individual to pick the charity rather than having them suffer a predetermined list drawn up by others.
One item in the budget that I appear to have missed is that from the start of the 2012/13 tax year, if more than 10% of an estate (excluding exemptions, over the threshold etc) is left to charity than the IHT will be reduced on that estate to 36% from 40%. That seems to me to be more of a flat out bribe than an incentive and I would hope that anyone who might pay IHT has already put serious thought into proper planning in order to avoid it.
Also, the UK Government is looking into accepting donations of works of art and items of historical interest in returns for IHT reductions. Is it just me or does that sound awfully like a protection racket?
This is something that makes a modicum of sense as those who wish to give substantial sums may not necessarily know to whom to give to or what the money could be spent on so may well appreciate it. As someone who would, if they had the money, be a philanthropist such a thing would be of interest. I’m not sure however that it needs £700,000 of taxpayers money spent on it.
In principle the idea of bring local people and organisations together so that they might share volunteers, facilities sounds like a good one. The downside though is that I seem to recall that the current US president was one…
To support them the Community Organisers will have access to an £80m Community First fund. Of this £30m of this will be set aside to match funds raised to support community-led projects in ‘targeted neighbourhoods of England with low social capital and significant deprivation’. It doesn’t say what neighbourhoods it has in mind though or how it will decide which projects are worthy. The remaining £50m will be an ‘Endowment Match Challenge available throughout England, with a clear priority to build local endowments through philanthropic donations’. Again pushing the philanthropic angle (this time after you have already gone to meet St. Peter) and, oddly, I see no mention of the other three countries in the Union.
The paper recognises that stupidity such as red tape and CRB checks often hinder giving and says that the government is promising to reduce such obstacles. Hopefully the cuts to the red tape will prove to be more than just hot air and the proposed CRB reforms (which are part of the almost forgotten about Freedom Bill) will come to pass. Also mentioned is what is termed ‘Citizen-led self-regulation’ – basically a ‘rate your volunteer’ thing in the same way as people can leave feedback on hotels, restaurants etc so will no doubt suffer all the potential problems as they do.
The summit is a new initiative announced in the paper and will be held in the autumn. The idea is that:
This will be a platform for ideas generation, networking and decision-making, bringing together leaders and innovators from business, social enterprises, charities, community groups, academia and government.
Because apparently these groups don’t interact with one another. And there was me thinking that leading members of charities would be doing their level best to attempt to woo business into giving them money. Isn’t that what charity fundraisers and ‘networking’ are all about?
No idea is, it seems, complete without getting children involved and this is no different – working, as it does, on the theory of getting them while they are young. A major plank of this is the ‘National Citizen Service’ or NCS – a name which can no doubt be twisted in any number of ways depending upon one’s political learnings and knowledge of history.
From reading though how it is described in the paper, the NCS comes across as a watered down version of the Duke of Edinburgh Award which somewhat makes me feel that the government is once again taking something that works and produce its own version rather than just leaving well alone.
Leading from the front
Just so us proles don’t feel left out, Ministers have pledged (and we all know that they keep those) that they will each undertake the One Day Challenge – ‘a voluntary commitment to give one day of their time over the course of a year to a charity or community group of their choice’ – and are hoping to persuade civil servants to also volunteer. Indeed, it seems that a number of government departments already offer their staff the opportunity to use at least one day of special leave to volunteer. What ‘special leave’ is I have no idea but I’m guessing it is on top of the regular holiday leave and the two weeks or so paid sick leave that seems to be spent on another foreign holiday… I suppose I shouldn’t really complain: the more time they aren’t at the desks, the less time they will actively be sending screwing the rest of us over!
I shouldn’t be completely cynical however. In a move that makes quite a lot of sense, the government is also allowing charities and volunteer groups to make use of parts of its buildings out of hours. This, I feel, is something that should be actively pursued at the local level as well. Who knows, it might even help the local library – a place we keep being told is in danger of becoming extinct. Throw in schools and there is a lot space there which is empty for a awful lot of time each year.
And finally, for those who do give of their time and money, the government is considering handing out some form of award in recognition of this. Personally I thought we already had this covered with the existing awards system so I’m not entirely sure why we need some more.
I’m not, in the end, completely anti the whole paper as I thought I might be. Don’t get me wrong though. It isn’t perfect by any means but I feel it could have been an awful lot worse.
Unsurprisingly the more viable ideas seem to come from the private sector working in conjunction with the voluntary one whilst the objectionable bits – the NCS, the ‘Giving’ Summit and the money to be spent on the philanthropy advice service – are all government sponsored and will be run using taxpayer cash, providing little that either doesn’t all ready exist or is not needed,
Getting the public to be more charitable, self-sufficient and providing nonessential services locally to those in need is indeed a very laudable aim although I fear it will take more than just nice words and fancy ideas to stop the State thinking of itself as Pater and Mater to us all and for those who have fed deeply on the State teat to wean themselves off of it. The long term viability of any of the schemes, tax payer funded or not, is as yet unknown. They could be roaring successes but if they aren’t then what will happen? Will the government take the hit of seeing them close or will it throw other people’s money at the situation in a vain attempt to save face?
I’m all for cutting red tape and any other nonsense that stops people being able to give of their time freely but if the government really wanted to allow me to be able to donate more to charity then it should ease my (and everyone else’s) tax burden thus freeing up money which could be stuck in the collection tin.