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Volume 529: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2011

The Government are anxious to encourage more giving. On 23 May, we published a White Paper that set out a range of ways in which we can help to make giving easier and more compelling, and offered better support for charities, community groups and social enterprises.

Although people in the UK are very generous compared with Europeans, the rate of UK charitable giving remains only half that of the rate in America. What further steps will the Minister take to encourage us to give up to the level of our American cousins?

My hon. Friend is right—we are a generous country—but giving has flatlined, despite substantial interventions from previous Governments. We do not accept that as being inevitable, and we want to help people to give more. He will know that the Chancellor announced generous incentives in the last Budget. The White Paper contains many ideas, including a social action fund to support creative, new models that incentivise people to give.

More people would be encouraged to give, especially to health care charities, if the issue of irrecoverable VAT on all non-business supplies was sorted out. Discussions are being held with the Treasury, but will the Minister ensure that they are expedited so that a mutually acceptable solution is reached as quickly as possible?

The issue of irrecoverable VAT continues to rumble on. It is a Treasury matter, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that as Minister with responsibility for civil society I continue to have regular discussions with the relevant Treasury Minister.

I spent 16 years in the fundraising sector. Does the Minister agree that one giving barrier for many people is the abolition of cheques?

I know that causes a lot of debate and anxiety in the sector. As my hon. Friend well knows, the matter is under review by the Government. It has been stated that cheques need to be replaced by some form of paper-based system.

The House will note that the giving White Paper states that the Government aim to support and manage opportunities for giving, but what will the Minister do to monitor what sums are given and to which organisations? Does he intend to plug funding gaps, should they arise, so that poor areas of the country are not disadvantaged? Indeed, if donations continue to fall, is it a sensible strategy to rely on philanthropy to fill gaps in public funding?

The Government see a substantial opportunity to encourage more giving, bearing in mind that 8% of the country do 47% of the giving. The hon. Lady asks about money for more deprived areas. Our “community first and community organiser” programme, which is worth about £80 million, is exclusively targeted on the most deprived communities. The programme incentivises the local giving of time and money to support social action projects led by those communities.