Nudge nudge

Nudging and charity.

Reading, yesterday morning, about the success of the "Nudge Unit" (the government’s Behavioural Insight Team) in a pilot study which showed that three times more money goes to charity in people's wills when the lawyer writing the will prompts them, I relived the moment on Monday when my daughter and I thundered passed Mo Farah at the 2K mark in the BUPA 10K run through central London.

Admittedly, Mr Farah was heading in the other direction and on the point of finishing, but that didn't detract from my recollection of the atmosphere and the enormous range of charities and good causes for whom 11,000 or so other runners  were raising funds.

I wondered how many of us amateur athletes had been "nudged" into fundraising on this occasion, by whom, and indeed to which other issues the unit could be directed.

After all, it's not only the charities and their causes which benefit ultimately - the government is also a winner. As we were reminded at the launch of the Big Society, the government is relieved of funding the services provided by the charities, albeit at the relative cost of the fiscal incentives for those who give and receive. 

In addition to charities as a group, HMRC itself has already benefited from intervention by the Nudge Unit. Apparently, warning letters to those who had thus far failed to file tax returns were substituted with the missives observing that others in their area had already paid their tax – with a resultant 15 per cent increase in repayment rates. 

But what about professional advisers themselves, the solicitors or tax advisers through whom the Nudge Unit worked its philanthropic magic?

If the intoduction of the General Anti Abuse Rule wasn't a form of nudge (not to promote schemes which exploit loopholes in the tax legislation), I'm not sure what is - although a nudge possibly more akin to that which the playground bully might give to encourage the small child clutching a bag of sweets to hand them over.

I am pleased to report that I resisted the temptation to nudge the groups of runners whose fancy dress costumes acted more as a barrier than a promotion for their causes, but who will be the conscience for the Nudge Unit in future?

It is the first governmental policy team to be part-privatised and apparently the government is looking for a business partner to take it into the private sector. Less Big Brother and more the hired muscle?

Nevertheless, in the spirit of nudging, this was the cause I was running for: www.justgiving.com/sophie-and-midge

Sophie Mazzier is counsel at private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP

This story first appeared on Spears Magazine

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This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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