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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Brexit confusion is scuppering my show – what next?

My week, from spinning records with Baconface, Brexit block and visiting comedy graves.

I am a stand-up comedian, and I am in the process of previewing a new live show, which I hope to tour until early 2018. It was supposed to be about how the digital, free-market society is reshaping the idea of the individual, but we are in the pre-Brexit events whirlpool, and there has never been a worse time to try to assemble a show that will still mean anything in 18 months’ time.



A joke written six weeks ago about dep­orting eastern Europeans, intended to be an exaggeration for comic effect, suddenly just reads like an Amber Rudd speech – or, as James O’Brien pointed out on LBC, an extract from Mein Kampf.

A rude riff on Sarah Vine and 2 Girls 1 Cup runs aground because there are fewer people now who remember Vine than recall the briefly notorious Brazilian video clip. I realise that something that gets a cheer on a Tuesday in Harrogate, or Glasgow, or Oxford, could get me lynched the next night in Lincoln. Perhaps I’ll go into the fruit-picking business. I hear there’s about to be some vacancies.



I sit and stare at blocks of text, wondering how to knit them into a homogeneous whole. But it’s Sunday afternoon, a time for supervising homework and finding sports kit. My 11-year-old daughter has a school project on the Victorians and she has decided to do it on dead 19th-century comedians, as we had recently been on a Music Hall Guild tour of their graves at the local cemetery. I wonder if, secretly, she wished I would join them.

I have found living with the background noise of this project depressing. The headstones that she photographed show that most of the performers – even the well-known Champagne Charlie – barely made it past 40, while the owners of the halls outlived them. Herbert Campbell’s obelisk is vast and has the word “comedian” written on it in gold leaf, but it’s in the bushes and he is no longer remembered. Neither are many of the acts I loved in the 1980s – Johnny Immaterial, Paul Ramone, the Iceman.



I would have liked to do some more work on the live show but, one Monday a month, I go to the studios of the largely volunteer-run arts radio station Resonance FM in Borough, south London. Each Wednesday night at 11pm, the masked Canadian stand-up comedian Baconface presents selections from his late brother’s collection of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s jazz, psychedelia, folk, blues and experimental music. I go in to help him pre-record the programmes.

Baconface is a fascinating character, whom I first met at the Cantaloupes Comedy Club in Kamloops in British Columbia in 1994. He sees the radio show as an attempt to atone for his part in his brother’s death, which was the result of a prank gone wrong involving nudity and bacon, though he is often unable to conceal his contempt for the music that he is compelled to play.

The show is recorded in a small, hot room and Baconface doesn’t change the bacon that his mask is made of very often, so the experience can be quite claustrophobic. Whenever we lose tapes or the old vinyl is too warped to play, he just sits back and utters his resigned, philosophical catchphrase, “It’s all bacon!” – which I now find myself using, as I watch the news, with ­depressing regularity.



After the kids go to sleep, I sit up alone and finally watch The Lady in the Van. Last year, I walked along the street in Camden where it was being filmed, and Alan Bennett talked to me, which was amazing.

About a month later, on the same street, we saw Jonathan Miller skirting some dog’s mess and he told me and the kids how annoyed it made him. I tried to explain to them afterwards who Jonathan Miller was, but to the five-year-old the satire pioneer will always be the Shouting Dog’s Mess Man.



I have the second of the final three preview shows at the intimate Leicester Square Theatre in London before the new show, Content Provider, does a week in big rooms around the country. Today, I was supposed to do a BBC Radio 3 show about improvised music but both of the kids were off school with a bug and I had to stay home mopping up. In between the vomiting, in the psychic shadow of the improvisers, I had something of a breakthrough. The guitarist Derek Bailey, for example, would embrace his problems and make them part of the performance.



I drank half a bottle of wine before going on stage, to give me the guts to take some risks. It’s not a long-term strategy for creative problem-solving, and that way lies wandering around Southend with a pet chicken. But by binning the words that I’d written and trying to repoint them, in the moment, to be about how the Brexit confusion is blocking my route to the show I wanted to write, I can suddenly see a way forward. The designer is in, with samples of a nice coat that she is making for me, intended to replicate the clothing of the central figure in Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 German masterpiece Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog.



Richard Branson is on the internet and, just as I’d problem-solved my way around writing about it, he’s suggesting that Brexit might not happen. I drop the kids off and sit in a café reading Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem. I am interviewing him about it for the Guardian in two weeks’ time. It’s 1,174 pages long, but what with the show falling apart I have read only 293 pages. Next week is half-term. I’ll nail it. It’s great, by the way, and seems to be about the small lives of undocumented individuals, buffeted by the random events of their times.

Stewart Lee’s show “Content Provider” will be on in London from 8 November. For more details, visit:

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage