It's time Osborne reined in the charity monster

Charity fund-raising has got out of control, says Merryn Somerset Webb. The government needs to take another look at Gift Aid.


There's no escaping the chuggers

What have you done for charity asked a jolly tweet earlier this week? My answer? Rather more than I wanted to. I've worked really very hard and paid a lot of tax. Some of that tax has gone on Gift Aid (see my earlier blogs on the outrage that is Gift Aid). That's what I've done for charity.

Why is it more than I wanted to? Because all the money that has poured from taxpayer pockets into charitable pockets hasn't been used in ways that I much like. That's partly because a good number of charities do things that I don't consider to be priorities for a debt ridden state such as ours (supporting donkeys abroad and obsessing over red squirrel numbers).

I'd prefer that we paid out much, much less in Gift Aid, and were we to find any spare cash as a result, to spend it on better primary school education. But it is also because too many of the charities that do, on the face it work in areas it is hard to disapprove of, behave so badly (paying hundreds of staff more than the taxpayer pays George Osborne), and with such entitlement that it is time for a discussion about the strings attached to the taxpayer money they get their hands on too.

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We've been having this conversation here for some years now, but it has been thrown into pretty sharp relief by the death of Olive Cooke. Charitable fund-raising these days is, as Libby Purves points out in The Times, a big and merciless business.

Make one donation on your phone, respond to a chugger or waver during a cold call and that's it: you are committed to "life on that organisation's pitiless radar". Charity is, says Purves "up on a moral high horse, exploiting guilt and monetising pity, often spending lavishly on senior staff and flashy offices, addicted to sanctimonious political lobbying".It "is becoming a monster".

Indeed it is. At the beginning of the coalition term, Osborne had a go at reining in Gift Aid (the thing that really allows all this). He has more power now. It's time for another go.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.