Throwing down the gauntlet to the UK’s richest...

21 October 2010 | By Cause4 staff

This week The Metro reported that ‘the world’s richest couple (Bill and Melinda Gates) have congratulated Britons for their generosity towards the world’s poorest people.’ Praising the British people about campaigns such as Red Nose Day and their responses in looking to alleviate desperate situations in Haiti and Pakistan, Melinda Gates acknowledged that that even within a tough economic climate ‘British people continue to show generosity in times of need.’

The couple, who have committed themselves to giving away an estimated £15billion, are among a number of high level American Philanthropists who have pledged to donate considerable sums to charitable activity. Only recently Bill Clinton at his 6th Annual Philanthropic Summit secured pledges worth $6 Billion to good causes with high profile figures in attendance. These included ‘heads of state like U.S. President Barack Obama, business leaders such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, humanitarians and celebrities like the Rolling Stones.’

With so much philanthropic activity taking place in the UK and with pressure on the Third Sector in the UK at unprecedented levels, we continue to wonder how a similar tide of individual philanthropy might generate here.

According to The Guardian in August, ‘Britain is home to 40 billionaires but only one of them, Lord Sainsbury, has given enough away to qualify (by American expectations) to sign the Giving Pledge’. According to the Charities Aid Foundation a similar Giving Pledge here in the UK would raise an estimated £60bn. However, it seems unlikely that pledges of this magnitude will happen. A similar culture of richesse oblige or high-level peer pressure, which has played a major part in bringing about such high level giving in America, just does not exist here in the UK. Furthermore, it has been noted that Britain’s most famous billionaire, and the man most capable of leading a rallying call to arms, Richard Branson ‘has not been a big giver of his personal fortune.’

So what is to be done? According to the Times Rich List 2010 ‘the top 100 charitable givers in the UK donated £2.493billion’. Giving, although not in the tens of billions, is far from dead amongst our richest. More striking than this is the fact that the top 1000 richest people in the UK are worth £333.5 billion. Cause 4 suggests that if in the UK we were to obtain pledges amounting to 5% of this figure, the waves of philanthropy would have begun.

In order for this to happen however, substantial efforts must begin from within philanthropic circles. Government efforts to shift the tax system in favor of charitable giving will undoubtedly help but pledges of this kind and of this magnitude must begin from within. Come on, Mr. Branson, how about launching the philanthropy air-balloon? It’s time for potential philanthropists to lose their virginity!

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