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Historically a nation of givers, we must protect Britain's charitable status

Donate and volunteer.

People give donations for cyclone victims in Myanmar, 2008
People give donations for cyclone victims in Myanmar, 2008. Photo: Roslan Rahman, AFP

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