Food bank use is on the rise, in-work poverty has overtaken out-of-work poverty for the first time in the poorest parts of Birmingham and London1 and Oxfam has criticised2 austerity Britain’s benefit cuts, high prices and unemployment. Whilst the need for donations abroad remains, the increasing numbers of those in the UK who rely on charity means that UK-targeted poverty appeals are becoming more vital. According to Oxfam, Britain is turning into “one of the most unequal countries in the industrialised world”. But, amongst this struggle, charitable donations are decreasing. The UK needs more donations, but finds itself less able to provide.

Research from the University of Bristol and the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF)3 found that the UK public donated £9.3 billion to charity in 2011/12. This may seem impressive but it’s a decrease of £2.3 billion in real terms from the year before, a twenty percent plunge. Children’s charities have been hit particularly hard, suffering from government cuts accumulating to an estimated loss of nearly £405 million from 2011 to 20164. A further worry is those over 60 are twice as likely to give to charity as under 30s and six times more generous in their donations5. If a recently depressing job market has set habits for decades to come, this disparity may not be solvable by the younger generation simply growing up and the future of the charity sector could be in serious danger.

It must be asked ask how the charity sector will cope under the extra pressure placed on it by public spending cuts. People need to give more, but “every little helps” was worn out far before Tesco got hold of it. Knowing the very rich can donate more than some people’s annual income in a single transfer, it’s hard to believe the average person’s donation will make much of a difference. And there is the crux of the problem: unlike the two-way exchange between a consumer and a business, charitable donation depends on trust. The donor receives nothing tangible and there’s no knowing whether the intended recipient does either.

But chucking awkward change into donation buckets may have more impact than possibly imagined. Individual donations are the largest source of income for charities and the typical gift is £106. We all know that even a small donation can have a big result if they’re given to a cause that really needs it. A great example is in 2008 when Obama raised $28 million, with ninety percent of donations from people who donated $100 or less. Small donations can be particularly helpful for small charities. A survey by Charity Choice revealed that five percent of UK charities receive eighty-five percent of donations. It’s no wonder that smaller charities are in decline7. A small donation within a large charity’s budget will seem insignificant but within a small charity it could make a real difference. Donations can go far if you give them a good send-off.

It makes sense that with less to give, many people give less and closer to home. Charity must have appeared a largely international affair throughout many childhoods. Much of my own geographical knowledge is dictated by the struggling regions splashed across news broadcasts and charity appeals. Yemen, Sudan and Libya. Kuwait, Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Foreign problems are a constant peripheral concern, but no more than that. The immediacy of my own needs, those of my friends, family and the UK fills most of my vision. To the distant donor, distinct appeals from abroad can – unfairly – become a single smear of guns, sand and blood which never seems to clear. Individual successes and failures can be lost in unending negative news stories. Very different to the street outside my house where I can see and feel each sun ray and raindrop.

Presumably then a cause closer to home would stir any hidden altruism of mine. Most donations out of the 76 percent of Brits who regularly donate to charity stay within the UK8.  UK donations are particularly urgent in light of Oxfam’s report suggesting that the number of children living in vulnerable families – that is, families with unemployment, depression, poor quality housing and poverty – may rise considerably to over one million by 2015. In conjunction with anger about foreign aid spending in times of austerity, perhaps people will be more willing to give to home charities9. Despite hard times, there is no reason we can’t still give: giving is universal, not exclusive to a particular cause or time. We gain satisfaction and reputation. We gain a community feeling. We feel good. A report by the CAF10 suggests that Britons were more generous in 2013 despite economic problems and the UK is top of the developed world for giving to charity. At odds with the rest of the UK population, affluent individuals donate more than those in France, Spain and Switzerland11.

If the coalition budget continues to work and the wealth truly does trickle down, maybe donations from across society will increase and this donation dip will be revealed as a short-term trend instead of an austerity-sparked habit which may be sustained for decades to come.

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/entry/surviving-austerity
  2. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/walking-the-breadline-the-scandal-of-food-poverty-in-21st-century-britain-292978
  3. http://www.cafonline.org/pdf/1190h_partyconf_mindthegap.pdf
  4. http://www.ncb.org.uk/media/705870/beyond_the_cuts.pdf
  5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2013/08/08/charitable-giving-baby-boomers-donate-more-study-shows/
  6. http://www.cafonline.org/pdf/UKGiving2012Full.pdf
  7. http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/bulletin/third_sector_daily_bulletin/article/1186445/study-shows-income-fall-five-years-small-charities-big-rise-large-charities/?DCMP=EMC-CONThirdSectorDaily
  8. https://www.cafonline.org/media-office/press-releases/2013/world-giving-index-2013.aspx
  9. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23987237
  10. https://www.cafonline.org/PDF/UKGiving2012Full.pdf
  11. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/10074146/Austerity-fails-to-dent-charitable-giving.html