Ministers push for wealthy Britons to leave more money to charity and the arts

UK's rich give proportionately less to charities than the less well off, so the government wants them to donate 10% of their wealth

A US-style plan to increase philanthropic donations by the rich, with new incentives to encourage millionaires to leave 10% of their estates to charities and the arts, will be at the heart of a government review to be launched tomorrow.

Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, will pledge to end a "startling" divide which sees the rich donating less as a proportion of their income to charities than the less well off. He will outline a government review that is likely to examine tax incentives to create a legacy version of the medieval tithe in which parishioners gave 10% of their income to the church.

Hunt joins forces with his ministerial colleagues Francis Maude and David Willetts to pledge that the government will help Britain to catch up with the US, where the arts are funded through billions of dollars in philanthropic donations.

In a Guardian article, the three ministers write that charitable donations increased last year. "But we believe we could do so much more. At the moment, Britain lags behind other countries, especially America, in terms of its rates of charitable giving and volunteering. And it's startling that the richest third of donors in this country give less as a proportion of their income to charity than the poorest third."

The ministers say the reforms will require a "massive change in culture" that will take time. "We are not just going to exhort people to volunteer more of their time or money – we are going to take practical steps to make it easier too," they write. "At the moment, we are reviewing philanthropic giving and volunteering, looking at the ways we can encourage people to give more money and time."

The ministers say the changes are at the heart of the government's plans to create a "big society". They say the new approach is a major departure from Labour's "transactional" way of running Britain in which people pay their taxes and expect the state to run everything.

They write: "This is a new approach. Of course, in one way it's easier for those in government to say: 'Just pay your taxes and leave the problem-solving up to us; don't worry about what's going on outside your front door because we'll sort everything out.' But we think this is a very drab, pessimistic, transactional way of running a country. And it doesn't work ... This approach underestimates people's ability and desire to get involved."

Hunt has long campaigned in favour of fostering "an American-style culture of philanthropy to the arts and culture". In a speech in June 2008 he said that individuals in the US donated 1.7% of their income to charitable and cultural organisations, compared with 0.7% in Britain.

Ministers will make clear the reforms are not designed to replace state funding for the arts, which are facing cuts of 15% over four years. Treasury sources insisted tonight that no ideas had been endorsed – ministers had open minds and wanted the review to be a genuinely open process.


Nicholas Watt and Dan Sabbagh

The GuardianTramp

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