Philanthropy, Fairness and Democracy

The past year has been a turbulent one for philanthropy in the UK.

Whilst progress has been made in doing more to celebrate and encourage those who give away some of their private wealth to promote the public good, the repercussions of last Spring’s Budget continue. The proposal to impose a cap on charity tax relief was announced, roundly criticised, and eventually (and thankfully) dropped. But the pain it caused to philanthropists, who found themselves labelled as tax dodgers and accused of contributing to ‘dodgy charities’, goes on. Earlier this week when the topic came up in a roomful of donors, the emotional impact was apparent. A man who has given generously to a range of causes said he was ‘apoplectic’, and in fact seemed to still be in a state of apoplexy.

So at a time when the motives of philanthropists and the purpose of philanthropy is under such scrutiny,  it is welcome that this year’s Attlee lecture focused on this very topic. Sir Stuart Etherington’s lecture, called Philanthropy, Fairness and Democracy is well worth a read. Here’s the concluding paragraph to whet your whist:

Society is a better place thanks to the altruism and reciprocity of us all: rich and poor, young and old, donors of time and money. And whatever the weaknesses inherent in philanthropy and voluntarism, the value and values they bring mean we should nurture and celebrate them. 

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