The Charity Mess
It may be too soon to be passing judgment on the Cameron government. But it does sometimes look as if we are back with the impatient legislation of the Blair era, along with the facile soundbites, the eye-catching initiatives, the whitewashed sleaze, the fawning towards the tabloids (in Blairspeak, ‘managing the relationship’), and the unwillingness or inability to think through the implications of under-researched policy decisions – tendencies which in the end came to be deplored by many of Blair’s one-time supporters as well as his opponents. The U-turn over Osborne’s attempt to cap the amounts that rich taxpayers can save by donations to registered charities is, as U-turns go, a little one. But it is symptomatic of a disposition to tinker for a short-term reason with an issue that cries out for long-term thought. A veteran Conservative stalwart, Lord Hodgson, has been appointed to conduct a review of the 2006 Charities Act, and he is on record as having announced that ‘nothing is ruled in, and nothing is ruled out.’ But it requires no supernatural gift of prophecy to predict that the opportunity missed in 2006 will be missed again.
Vol. 34 No. 15 · 2 August 2012
‘Anyone who has paid their taxes and then wants to give financial support to a museum, an opera house or a donkey sanctuary has every right to do so, and the beneficiaries every reason to be grateful,’ W.G. Runciman writes (LRB, 19 July). ‘But let’s not pretend that the donors are being “philanthropic” and are therefore entitled to pay less tax than they otherwise would.’ I am currently president of the Royal Asiatic Society, a small body that depends on its charitable status to manage its expenses, and is in sore need of more donors and gift aid. It does not reduce poverty, except of the mind. Does Runciman really want to live in a country in which a learned society is not a public good? Is his own Cambridge college recalculating its budget to take account of the large reduction in its income that his proposals would produce?
W.G. Runciman, addressing the matter of tax relief for charities, asks: ‘What is the public benefit in donations made for the advancement of religion?’ The Church Times, published the same week, offers the following answer on page eight of its General Synod report:
The Church as a whole reclaimed ‘about £84 million of tax from HMRC a year’, much more efficiently in parishes than in cathedrals … what the state ‘gets’ in return [is] ‘ministry in every square mile of England … preservation of the country’s heritage … chaplains in hospitals, prisons, armed forces … governance of 4700 schools educating one million children … over 23 million hours of voluntary community action over and above church activities each month’.