BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Monday, 2 August, 2004, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Do Britain's wealthy give enough back?
By Joe Boyle
BBC News Online

In the US, millionaires giving vast amounts of money to charities is standard practice. In Britain, it rarely happens. BBC News Online asks why.

Body shop founder Anita Roddick pictured in 2003
Millionaire Anita Roddick believes the rich should look after the poor

The British have traditionally relied on their government to look after the poor.

The welfare state has long been regarded as a safety net for the most underprivileged.

But there is an increasing belief that the state no longer looks after those most in need.

In the US, charitable organisations, often funded by wealthy philanthropists, have been relied on to do this job.

Former Microsoft boss Bill Gates is renowned for giving millions to charity.

And in Britain, calls are growing for the wealthy to do the same.

Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, who has recently given 1m to Amnesty International, says the rich have a responsibility to look after the poor.

She said: "I've got everything I want. What do you do with the excess? What do you actually do with an amount like 36m?

"The whole purpose for me was to make my company successful, earn money by wages and shares, and then give it away."

She added: "I think the rich have to look after the poor. I don't think in our society we have any understanding of that."


So should wealthy philanthropists take over where the government has left off?

Charities consultant Teresa Lloyd believes they should.

"The state does not do it better," she says.

Ms Lloyd has written a book called Why Rich People Give - part of which investigates the differences in giving between the US and UK.

Former Microsoft boss Bill Gates
Billionaire Bill Gates is famous for his charitable donations
She told BBC News Online that in addition to major cultural differences - a commitment to the community in the US and a reliance on the state in Britain - there are specific financial reasons why Americans give more.

She said: "There is a fundamental difference in taxing the wealthy.

"In the UK, if you want to give a hospital a million pounds, there are tax breaks and you will only need to give 600,000 with the government making up the rest.

"But this means people have to give as a one-off, upfront gift.

"If they feel insecure about their finances, they might not feel able to do this."

'Irrevocable commitment'

The only other way is to leave it in a will - which can be changed at any time.

But in the US, people can make an "irrevocable commitment" to donate a certain amount after their death.

So the philanthropists keep their money, but they have signed a legally binding contract and the beneficiary can borrow against it.

Ms Lloyd, who was director of Philanthropy UK - a three-year project aimed at encourage Britain's wealthy to give more - believes this approach is the right one.

"It addresses two of the major problems in this country - lack of planning in giving and lack of feeling completely secure," she said.

If these changes are made, she believes the poor will benefit.

Stagecoach founder becomes OBE
12 Jun 04  |  Scotland
Exiled US philanthropist 'probed'
08 May 04  |  Americas

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific