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Charitable Donations

Volume 457: debated on Thursday 8 March 2007

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what estimate the Office for National Statistics has made of the proportion of the population who gave money to charity in (a) 1996-97 and (b) the most recent year for which figures are available. (125730)

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician who has been asked to reply.

Letter from Karen Dunnell, dated 8 March 2007:

As National Statistician I have been asked to reply to your recent Parliamentary Question asking what estimate the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has made of the proportion of the population who gave money to charity in (a) 1996-97 and (b) the most recent year for which figures are available. (125730).

Estimates of the proportion of households (rather than individuals) who gave money to charity can be produced from the Expenditure and Food Survey (EFS), which is a sample survey covering approximately 7,000 households in the UK. In 2005/06 the proportion of households making charitable donations was 28 per cent, which compared to 31 per cent in 1996/97. These estimates are likely to be affected by a degree of under-reporting due to imperfect recall of survey respondents.

The ONS’ Omnibus Survey also asked respondents about charitable giving; the questions were included in the survey specifically for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), and the results appear in the NCVO publication ‘The UK Voluntary Sector Almanac 2006’. This publication contains more detailed analysis of charitable giving by individuals, although figures are available for 2004/05 only.

Figures from this publication suggest that the estimates from the EFS understate the true extent of charitable giving. The NCVO reports that charities' financial accounts show total donations received from individuals of around £4 billion in 2004/05, whereas the estimate of donations based on the EFS in that year, was £2.9 billion. The estimates of charitable giving produced by the NCVO from the Omnibus Survey data, are actually higher than would be implied by the charities’ financial accounts. It reports that 57% of adults gave to charity in a typical month during 2004/05, and that total donations for the year amounted to £8.2 billion. The NCVO report discusses some of the reasons why their estimates are higher. They may include an element of ‘purchase giving’—the purchase of goods or services from charities, that is still regarded by the respondent as charitable giving. In addition, whereas the EFS collects information on charitable giving merely as one component of expenditure amongst many, the Omnibus Survey questions addressed charitable giving much more directly, and the social desirability of charitable giving may have lead respondents to over-report the size and number of gifts.