Editorial: Philanthropy Review holds out for the big prizes

The group's recent report contains sound and well-argued recommendations, but ensuring their implementation does not promise to be easy, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Last week's report of the Philanthropy Review is an uplifting document: it sets out cogently how its authors think the £11bn that people in the UK give to charity each year could be increased by £2bn by 2015.

Its three aims are: to make it easier for people to give, especially through charity bank accounts and increased payroll giving; to encourage giving by simplifying tax incentives and introducing 'living legacies'; and to help make giving a social norm through education, professional advice and a national campaign.

None of these is entirely new, but many are better developed in the report than in earlier explorations. There is a well-worked example of how living legacies might be constructed, for example, and how government statistics could be used to throw more light on giving patterns. There is even a natty 'road map' with a timeline for action.

So where's the rub? To start with, there's the economic climate. Personal incomes are under extreme pressure, and that is likely to continue for some years. Giving has held up well in recent hard times, but procuring a significant increase will be a big ask.

The second challenge is gaining the cooperation of employers to make a real effort over payroll giving, and of the high-street banks to offer charity bank accounts to all. Both groups are likely to take some persuading that the effort and the expense are justified.

But perhaps the biggest difficulty will be persuading the government to respond to the many measures in the report that require its support. The recent Giving White Paper studiously avoided mention of tax reform other than the limited measures in the recent Budget.

But the difficulties are not a reason to throw in the towel. The members of the Philanthropy Review are an influential group, capable of mobilising support and twisting arms in private. The big prizes are probably living legacies and a boost for payroll giving, and they should make these their priorities.

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