Editorial: low politics and high idealism

The altruism shown by Oxford academic Toby Ord is in sharp contrast to the Government's Compact breach, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector
Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector

"My Government will legislate to give statutory powers to the Commission for the Compact to investigate and report on breaches of the Compact ..." Did you hear it? No, of course you didn't.

What we got instead, in the build-up to the Queen's speech, was the flagrant breach of the Compact by the Office of the Third Sector, commented on by Simon Hebditch on the opposite page. Powers for the commission remain one of the pieces of pie in the sky that politicians use to string along the voluntary sector.

But while low politics was going down in Westminster, there was high idealism in Oxford. The philosophy researcher Toby Ord announced that he was going to take only £20,000 a year from his salary for the rest of his life and donate the rest to charity in the hope of saving thousands of lives in the developing world.

He has an exacting set of criteria for his charities and an elegant mathematical formula for calculating the benefits he expects to bring.

His commitment goes well beyond even the tithe, or tenth, that was once expected by the church of its adherents, and it would be interesting to revisit Ord and his wife in 10 years to see how the plan is holding up.

Many of the financial pressures of life still await them, not least the children that might arrive. It will be surprising and admirable if they manage to maintain their good intentions.

Will many people join Giving What We Can, the organisation he has founded? It sets people a lower giving target than his own - 10 per cent. Sadly, the answer is probably no.

Most people already lose more than 20 per cent of their income in taxes, which are considered by many, however misguidedly, to be partly a contribution, albeit involuntary, to the welfare of others. It is likely to remain a struggle for charities to get even a few extra percentage points out of the average citizen.

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