The New State of Donations: three decades of household giving to charity 1978-2008 uses data from the Office of National Statistics’ Living Costs and Food survey. It says that in 2008 households gave an average of 0.4 per cent of their spending to charity - exactly the same as in 1988.
The report says giving has been relatively recession-proof: the value of giving in real terms has typically grown during times of economic growth but has not fallen at the same rate as the economy during recessions.
It says that the long-term decline in the proportion of households giving to charity came to a halt in 2000. Thirty-two per cent of households gave to charity in 1978. This fell to 25 per cent in 1999, but grew between 2000 and 2008 to 28 per cent "with little evidence of any clear trend", the report says.
According to the study, there is evidence that the elderly are being increasingly relied on for charitable donations. It says that over-65s accounted for 35 per cent of all donations in 2008, compared with 25 per cent in 1978.
Poorer donors are more generous than richer donors in terms of the proportion of their budget they give to charity, the report says.
Sarah Smith, professor of economics at Bristol University and one of the report’s authors, said the relative stability of charitable giving was both good and bad news for the voluntary sector.
"It means that charities can rely on donors, even in times of recession," she said. "But it also indicates the huge scale of the challenge in raising the level of donations."
She said that changes since the 1980s, such as increases in the generosity of tax relief and the professonalisation of fundraising, might have prevented donations from falling, but that there was little evidence they had brought about a step change in how much people give.