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Academic says concerns over decline in giving by young people are 'overblown'

Beth Breeze responds to a Charities Aid Foundation report that said there was a 'donation deficit'

Beth Breeze
Beth Breeze

An academic has said that Charities Aid Foundation’s concerns over the next generation of givers are "overblown".

Beth Breeze, of the University of Kent’s Centre for Philanthropy, Humanitarianism and Social Justice, was responding to research published by CAF last week that warned charitable giving by younger people was in decline and charities faced a "donation deficit" if action was not taken to ensure they matched the generosity of older generations.

The University of Kent issued a news release today quoting remarks by Breeze  at a fringe meeting organised by CAF at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Brighton. "It’s true that more than half of all UK donations are now made by those aged 60 or over," said Breeze. "But it’s not fair to jump to the conclusion that today’s youth are mean.

"Rather, they are facing daunting financial concerns, such as paying increased tuition fees and putting down a deposit on a house, which mean they cannot prioritise philanthropy just yet. If we must worry about ‘generations of giving’, let’s focus on non-donors who’ve paid off their mortgages. The partners in the coalition government have no need to manufacture or fan additional anxieties. They need to remember that the kids are all right."

The study released by CAF last week was by Professor Sarah Smith of the University of Bristol. It showed that the gap between donations made by people over 60 and those under 30 had widened sharply over the past 30 years.

It also showed that more than half of all donations come from the over-60s, compared with just over one-third 30 years ago. CAF called for urgent action to tackle the "donation deficit".

Cathy Pharoah, professor of charity funding at Cass Business School, took issue with the CAF report last week, saying the study relied on data first published in another report that showed "no cause for concern". She said there was little evidence that today's young people would be any less generous than previous generations as they got older.

Breeze later told Third Sector she had a lot of respect for Professor Smith, whose "findings stand as they are". Asked what she thought of criticism of CAF's interpretation of the research, she said: "Inevitably, to get heard you need to make a stronger statement, I suppose, than you might if you were talking about it in an academic debate."

She said that to compare people under 30 now with baby boomer under-30s was like "comparing apples to pears": today someone under 30 was probably not married, not a parent, did not have their own home but did have bigger debts and no spare cash. Other parts of the population that could be targeted for giving included the super rich, she said, many of whom did not give at all or did not give as much as they could do.

A CAF spokesman said: "Obviously Dr Breeze makes some very interesting comments about the daunting financial concerns facing many younger people in society today. Our report is all about stimulating debate about how charities can engage with younger people in the long term and encourage people in society of all generations to engage with charities and give what they can.

"We are not saying anyone in society is mean. We are saying there are trends out there over the years and it’s important to debate what these trends are and what the government and the sector working together can do to engage as many people as possible in giving."

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