People give donations for cyclone victims in Myanmar, 2008. Photo: Roslan Rahman, AFP
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Historically a nation of givers, we must protect Britain's charitable status

Donate and volunteer.

The UK has a proud history of charitable giving, and each year is ranked amongst the most generous countries in the world. This generosity serves as the backbone for so much of the good that goes on in communities across the country.

But we cannot rest on our laurels. Recent trends have shown that fewer households are participating in regular giving, and charities are increasingly reliant on the support of older people to fund their work. Indeed, nine per cent of Britons are responsible for two-thirds of all charitable giving, and there is a real need to broaden participation so that more people make a contribution.

Promoting a sense of citizenship, a sense of common action to tackle the great issues that face the world today, has always been one of my aims in politics. That is why I was really pleased to chair the cross-party Growing Giving Parliamentary Inquiry, supported by the Charities Aid Foundation, in order to  examine how we can remove the barriers to giving and build on the extraordinary generosity that has been a feature of British life for generations.

Over the past year I have, with my co-chairs – Baroness Tyler of Enfield and Andrew Percy MP –been pleased to see that attitudes towards charities are extremely positive. People want to support good causes. Generosity is alive and well in this country, and there is a real desire amongst all age groups to  give both their time and, where they can, a little of their cash, to ensure that charities are able to pursue their social missions..

This is not about nineteenth century charity compensating for the impact of austerity. It is about reinforcing the glue that sustains civil society and a sense of mutuality and reciprocity, which makes the world a better place. Not solely by asking us to do things but by facilitating what we can do by working together.

Today, the Growing Giving Inquiry produces a number of recommendations designed to increase participation in giving. We recognise that no single sector of society can unleash the charitable potential that exists within the UK, and we call on charities, business and government to work in partnership to make contributing to social good the norm.

The report calls for a change in business culture, urging businesses to include a commitment to social good within the very fabric of their organisation. From directors to new starters, employees should be given the opportunity to support charity whilst at work. Younger generations are increasingly committed to working for businesses that they see as making a positive contribution, and businesses should be encouraged to follow the lead of the many British companies, like BT and ASOS, who already make an outstanding commitment to community life.

We also acknowledge the challenges posed by retirement, with many people eager to put the skills they have developed over their working life to use, but lacking information about how to do so. We argue for the introduction of a Post Careers Advice Service, explaining to older people how they can effectively give their time to make a difference and emphasising the health and well-being benefits derived from volunteering. Just as youngsters often gain enormously from raising money for vital causes, so older people (particularly those fortunate enough to have financial security) can work to raise funding as well as providing friendship and a little of their time.

Finally, we propose a number of steps to give young people a commitment to volunteering and social action at an early age. Crucially, young people who generously give their time and money should be rewarded for their contribution, and we call for the reform of UCAS forms at the time of applying to university, so that young people are given an explicit way of demonstrating their commitment to social action.

We are positive about the future of giving in the UK, but realise that action must be taken to ensure that donating and volunteering become social norms. The proposals we make are all practical in their own right, but together represent a far reaching attempt to remove barriers to giving and build a stronger, and better society. It is absolutely vital that opportunities to contribute are accessible and relevant to everyone. We must build on our giving heritage and ensure that future generations are able to match and surpass the generosity of previous donors – now is the time to act.

David Blunkett is the Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital