The Giving List matters more than the Rich List

Today’s newly published Sunday Times Rich List 2009 is getting lots of press interest for all the wrong reasons. Widespread schadenfreude at the news that the 1,000 members have collectively lost £155 billion in the last year means there’s been no media space left to talk about what really matters: that despite the dramatic falls in wealth, the amount they are giving away continues to rise. To be precise, the 37.5% fall in wealth of the list members was accompanied by an 8% rise in giving.

Now admittedly there’s one methodological glitch in the otherwise admirable Giving List, which is the annual account of the philanthropic activities of our society’s richest members. For some reason, the compilers include pledges as well as donations that have been actually made. So, in 2008, Tom Hunter found himself at 3rd place on the Giving List due to his pledge to give away £1 billion in his lifetime. The figure £1,050,000,000 even appeared in the ‘recent donations’ column of the Giving List table – but that pre credit-crunch pledge means it’ll take an awful lot longer to hit the admirable £1 billion target.

So it seemed reasonable to anticipate the Rich List compilers would have quietly changed tack and not counted pledges anymore, when this one blew up so quickly. But in the new list, there in the no. 2 spot, is Lord Ashcroft, on the basis that he has pledged to leave 80% of his £1.1 billion fortune to charity upon his death. At least Hunter is still planning to give away his billion during his lifetime. Making your biggest financial donation after your death is surely more of a gift from your descendants than one that affects your own lifestyle?

But, without the Giving List we’d know next to nothing about the charitable acts of the wealthiest, so it is still very much three cheers for compiler Alastair McCall. It’s just a shame we’re more interested in luxury lifestyles and falling fortunes than in generous givers.

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