Right of Reply: Stuart Etherington

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The Independent Culture
The head of the National Council

for Voluntary Organisations replies to a leading article on charities

YOUR EDITORIAL ("Bring clarity to the world of charity in the `Giving Age'"), suggests that one should not embark on wider moves to encourage incentives to charitable giving without first of all reviewing the whole question of charitable status. While there is without doubt a need to look at the parameters of charity law, which date back some 400 years, there is also an immediate and compelling reason for attempting to increase the incentives to give to charity.

Over the last 30 years, there has been a worrying decline of some 30 per cent in charitable donations by the public. Individual giving is the life-blood of the voluntary sector in this country, and enables it to help individuals and communities in ways that the state and the market cannot; it is also what helps the sector retain its characteristic independence.

The editorial rightly commends the Millennium Gift Aid initiative announced in the Budget. But you do not mention that, as part of the Government's long-awaited and needed proposal to review charities taxation, from the year 2000 the scheme will extend beyond those charities working overseas, to include all UK charities. This will help kick-start the Giving Age and provide a welcome shot in the arm for charities.

As a nation we have a long tradition of recognising the value of the charitable sector, and accept that giving of money and time are regarded as aspects of citizenship.

But if these values are to be sustained into the next century, it will not be sufficient just to review the nation's Elizabethan charity laws; serious effort also has to go into building a new age of giving today. It is in everybody's interests to further inspire public confidence in charity.