Editorial: Tax breaks might make people give more

Stephen Cook, editor

This month's Home Office document A Generous Society is to a great extent a ramble through recent history, giving the best gloss to initiatives such as the Giving Campaign and topped off with the usual pious exhortations about donating to charity.

But it does contain one or two new proposals, including School Charity Accounts and a new centre of excellence to promote innovation and research into charitable giving. Let's hope that the latter might be set up in a decent university department somewhere.

The idea of giving each secondary school £500 of public money to get its charitable ball rolling was greeted with weary reluctance by the representatives of head teachers. Education has been so thoroughly poked by so many sticks recently that you can forgive them for feeling that this is just another distracting chore. Another problem is that the attempt to produce charity to order like this detracts from the voluntary aspect that gives it most meaning.

One way of promoting more giving might be to treat individuals a bit more like companies. The section on employers starts from the assumption that they won't do much unless you give them a tax break. If we gave individuals - especially the wealthy - a tax incentive to donate to charity, as they do in the United States, perhaps giving levels would begin to rise again.

How the black market turned silver

In April this year, Third Sector broke the story of a black market in places for charity runners in the London Marathon. Charities were so desperate to get places that they were paying more than twice the face value to other charities in the prized Golden Bond scheme.

A group of charities on the 650-strong waiting list was asking the London Marathon for changes to free up the entry system. The organisers denied there was an issue and accused us of inaccurate reporting. In fact, our story was correct in every detail and was taken up by both national newspapers and radio.

The London Marathon has now decided to start a Silver Bond scheme, which from 2007 will give 250 places a year to those on the waiting list - presumably, the organisers now accept it is indeed an issue after all.

It remains to be seen whether the changes are sufficient to defuse the frustration in the queue and kill off the black market.

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