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Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will take steps to encourage giving to the United Kingdom charitable sector in the light of the recent report UK Giving 2012 that reported a drop in donations of 20 per cent in real terms.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my charitable interests as listed in the register.

My Lords, the report does suggest a worrying drop in giving. However, this is yet to be confirmed as a trend, and there is some debate within the sector about whether this is what charities are experiencing on the ground. The Government remain committed to taking action to ensure that Britain continues to be a generous country, in giving both money and time.

The Minister is right that there is some dispute about the figures, but I wonder whether he is familiar with the latest report by the Charities Aid Foundation that one in six charities think that they will have to close over the next year and that half are already using their reserves because of a fall in donations, cuts in public spending and much increased demand for their services. How do the Government think that this will impact on their vision of the voluntary sector and charities being a vital part of the delivery of public services and, indeed, on the Prime Minister’s hopes for the big society?

My Lords, I have also seen that report and looked at it in some detail. It is interesting, incidentally, that as of September this year there were 2,000 more charities registered than there had been three years before so the trend has not, so far, been downwards, but it is worrying. From my experience of the charities sector, and I have visited a large number of additional charities since I took over this post, I am shaken by some that I meet in Yorkshire that are almost entirely dependent on public funds. That seems unwise. I strongly approve of those that raise some of their money through their own activities. The social enterprise model is very much part of what charities should be doing. The Government are doing a whole range of things to encourage the new generation to give more of their time and money. The National Citizen Service is one of them.

My Lords, given that the number of donations being given online and by text is increasing, does the Minister agree that charities are losing out, because gift aid is not yet fully digitised? Does he agree that it is imperative that the Government help charities to achieve a universal declaration of gift aid so that online giving can be much more beneficial than it is now?

My Lords, I strongly agree with the noble Baroness. We are also looking at the difficulties of payroll giving. The Government want to encourage it. A small number of, by and large, large companies make that easy for their employees. We would like to see an expansion of payroll giving. The figures suggest that older people are now much more generous than the younger generation, and we do not entirely know the reasons. Again, that is not entirely fitting. I trust that all Members of this House are giving at least 10% of their income to charity.

My Lords, I spent some years living in the United States. I was always struck there by the efficacy of the system that they have, in which where contributions to charities are fully deductible. The US Treasury seems to have worked out that the more that is given by individuals, the less the eventual burden on the taxpayers because they are taking up a lot of the strain from the taxpayers. This is not rocket science. Successive Governments here never seem to look at this as a serious proposition. Why not?

I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I have a relative in the United States who managed, by making donations of various sorts to his university library, to avoid paying almost any tax the previous year. One wants to encourage people to be generous. The Small Charitable Donations Bill, which we will be dealing with next week, is part of that. We need to consider how one asks for larger donations and makes them tax-beneficial. I remind people that legacies are also important, but a charity which I was talking to last week said that the problem with legacies is that people offer them to you, then stick around for many years.

My Lords, have the Government assessed whether the decline in charitable giving is connected to an increasing rise in the practice of charity mugging, commonly called chugging, where members of the public are approached by representatives, who may be working for agencies, to sign a direct debit? In particular why is it that if they are holding a cash tin they need a licence from the local authority, but if they make an approach for a direct debit they do not?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, dealt with chugging in his review of the Charities Act. We wish to encourage a broader base for giving among small donors. Chugging has been with us for some time. It is not a new phenomenon.

My Lords, in terms of the giving of time through volunteering, as well as the giving of money, it is good news that the Government are supporting more volunteering for sports as part of the legacy from those wonderful games makers at the Olympics. Will that same support for volunteering be extended beyond just sporting activity to other kinds of volunteering, such as the work that the WRVS is currently doing in sending volunteers in to help people who are living alone and suffering from loneliness?

My Lords, the Government’s join in scheme is very much intended to take on the spirit of the Olympics and extend it to a whole range of other activities. I visited a National Citizen Service course this summer. I had been relatively sceptical about National Citizen Service until then, but I was completely bowled over by the young people who were taking the course who were learning how to go out, raise money, help people and develop schemes. I would like to see many more people have the opportunity to learn how they can contribute more actively to society. It was a bunch of people from one of the poorer areas of Bradford, and it was delightful to see that they were learning to give their time and were managing to raise money.

My Lords, during the noble Lord’s wide-ranging visits to different areas and charitable organisations, what assessment has he made of the impact of the current economic crisis, particularly on BME women’s organisations, given the Government’s commitment to empowering women and those dealing with domestic violence and increased reports of forced marriages and honour-based violence?

My Lords, what happens to different charities depends partly on how heavily they depend on public funds and what their donor or social enterprise base is. I am aware of several charities in Yorkshire that deal particularly with women. Their current trajectory is very different depending on their funding base.