Poorest people give highest proportion of income to charity, says study

The percentage of people who donate has fallen in the downturn, but the average amount given has increased slightly, according to analysis by Professor Yaojun Li

Giving: poor give more
Giving: poor give more

The average amount given by donors to charity has increased during the downturn, but the proportion of those giving fell by seven percentage points, according to a new study.

Professor Yaojun Li, from the Institute for Social Change at the University of Manchester, analysed 105,731 replies to the government's annual Citizenship Survey over the 10 years to 2011.

Li presented his findings for the first time at the British Sociological Association's annual conference in London today. He said the average amount people donated in the four weeks before being questioned in 2010/11 was £16, compared with £15 in the same period in 2007/08. The 2010/11 figure has been adjusted downwards to take inflation into account.

But the overall proportion of those donating has fallen since before the recession. Of those questioned in 2005, 79 per cent said they had donated to charity, compared with 76 per cent during 2007/08 and 72 per cent in 2010/11.

"Britons are overall quite generous, but the current crisis is taking a toll," said Li. "It’s not all bad news – although fewer are giving, the total amount they are giving is roughly the same.

"The claims of a broken society are not well grounded, but the evidence also shows that the government needs to do more to sustain and increase the level of participation in civic engagement, voluntary help and charitable giving."

Li found that the poorest tend to give the highest proportion of their income. In 2010/11, the poorest 20 per cent of those surveyed gave 3.2 per cent of their monthly income to charity, while the richest 20 per cent gave just 0.9 per cent. The remaining 60 per cent of people gave less than 2 per cent.

He found the average amount donated by the richest 20 per cent was £31.44 and the average for the poorest was £6.35.

"An inverse relationship is found between giving and income," said Li. "While people in higher income positions are found to give more in absolute terms, they are found to give less as a proportion of their incomes or their family incomes.

"Given the voluntary and altruistic nature of charitable giving, how to get the economically well-off to ‘give their fair share’ – that is, to contribute relatively more – is a challenge, if our society is to be made ‘big’."

Li also found that in 2010/11 71 per cent of those in the highest social class said they had volunteered and 84 per cent had donated to charity, compared with 36 per cent and 61 per cent respectively for those in routine manual work.

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