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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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era