At the end of last year, the Irish government received rather unfavourable coverage for its suggestion that it help the work of many charitable organisations by distributing the European cheese mountain to the poor. In fact, research that we publish today finds a new link between charitable giving and cheese. On average, UK households spend as much on cheese as they do giving to charity – around 0.4 per cent of their total spending.
Of course the aim of our research is a little broader than the charity-cheese comparison. We analyse more than thirty years of data on household charitable giving and look at the main trends over that period.
We find that a lower proportion of households today give to charity in a two-week period than was the case three decades ago (27 per cent compared to 32 per cent). However, the Millennium year marked a turning point in the long-term downward trend (in 1999, the proportion was down to 25 per cent). This was a year in which the government reformed Gift Aid. There were also many individual charity campaigns.
On average, households give more now in real terms than they did three decades ago – £2.34 in 2008 compared to £0.98 in 1978. This takes account of donors and non-donors. The fact that real donations have gone up in spite of falling participation is because donor households are giving a lot more (their donations have done up nearly three-fold over the period).
However, looking at the past twenty years, the rise in donations has done little more than keep pace with rising GDP. As a share of total spending, households are giving exactly the same now (0.4%) as they did ten years ago – and as they did twenty years ago. This is in spite of big changes in charity fundraising, in tax incentives and in methods of giving. The good news about the resilience in generosity is that giving appears to be fairly recession-proof, for example. But, it may be hard to achieve the kind of step-change in generosity that David Cameron sees as part of his Big Society.