Paul Vallely casts a critical eye over modern philanthropy, but the picture is not as bleak as he suggests (How philanthropy benefits the super-rich, 8 September). Rich people have a choice about giving money to good causes or not, and we should welcome those who do so. This should be in addition to paying taxes. Research by the Beacon Collaborative shows that of the 18,000 people in the UK with wealth of £10m or more, only 10% give significantly to charity. Rather than chastise the minority who do engage in philanthropy, questioning their motives and criticising their choices, we should ask questions of those who don’t.
The elite causes that Mr Vallely is concerned about are now much more conscious of widening access and participation. The most prominent universities receive large backing, but an increasing proportion is spent on bursaries to recruit people from underprivileged backgrounds.
Philanthropy is most effective when it works in partnership with the state, business and other charities. In The Gospel of Wealth, Andrew Carnegie said that philanthropists should “assist, but rarely or never … do all”. Their causes will always be driven by personal interest and experience, but this can lead to astonishing results, way beyond what the state or market could achieve. The footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign against child poverty is an example of philanthropy at its best. Britain should be the home of wealthy people with a social conscience, who wish to support philanthropy.
• That there is “no greater mistake … than that of trying to make charity do the work of justice” – the words of the Carnegie critic William Jewett Tucker, quoted in your article – is proved by the role of charities in the privatisation of the reform and rehabilitation aspect of our justice system. They are used to give a veneer of legitimacy to big business that profits from outsourcing.
It is likewise proved by the recourse to volunteer organisations to run public services, especially healthcare, that national and local government decide not to fund directly. And it is proved by charities’ mutation into conventional companies.
In all these cases, the limited accountability that our parliamentary form of government provides for citizens is swept away and replaced by no accountability at all.
Mary Pimm and Nik Wood