Middle classes use charity services far more than Britain's poor

Those on more than £55,000 used an average of 3.9 charity services last year

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Britain’s prosperous middle classes make more regular use of charity services than the country’s poorest, new research indicates.

While those on low incomes may dominate food banks and charity shops, middle classes pay many more visits to charity-run stately homes and art galleries, and are more likely to send their children to organisations like the Guides and Scouts. Perhaps unexpectedly, the well-heeled are also regular users of charitable debt advice services.

A new study by the Charities Aid Foundation found that those earning more than £55,000 used an average of 3.9 charity services in the last 12 months, compared to 2.7 for people earning under £7,000. In total, more than nine of every 10 households have used at least one charitable service at some time in the past, with nearly four fifths (79 per cent) having used a service in the last 12 months. Families with older children are most likely to have used a charitable service.

The popularity of heritage bodies such as the National Trust and blockbuster exhibitions at the British Museum have seen more and more high earners visit charity-run art galleries, museums, gardens and stately homes, according to the report.

In addition, nearly 20 per cent of those earning more than £55,000 had watched or participated in a theatre production or arts even run by a charitable body.

Deborah Fairclough, head of research at the Charities Aid Foundation, said the research showed how “deeply charities are woven into the fabric” of Britain, across all social and economic groups.

She said: "Many of us don’t even realise we’re using a charity, but even a trip to a National Trust property or a visit to a museum can be thanks to the wonderful work of charities in the UK.’’

This picture of the British charity sector contradicts the popular conception that the people making use of charity services and institutions tend to be among the most deprived people in the UK. The survey was carried out before the installation of nearly 900,000 poppies at the Tower of London, but the popularity of historic building and commemorations of the First World War is thought to have partly contributed to the boom in middle class use of Britain’s historic sites.

Middle classes are more likely to send their children to organisations such as the Scouts (PA)

Youth groups such as the Scouts and Girl Guides are also proving increasingly popular with wealthier families, with the report calculating that a family gains up to £2,500 in “social benefit” by sending a child to a weekly youth group, compared to a figure of around £1,300 gained from having access to a health support group.

The report found that middle income individuals also relied heavily on debt advice services, such as charity Step Change, at the same time as enjoying the charitable benefits of the countries museum and fine art galleries.

According to the report lower-income individuals - those earning from £7,000 to £14,000 - were far less likely to attend a charity arts event and 20 per cent less likely to have visited a historical attraction, gallery, garden or stately home.

But Ms Fairclough added: “The report also shows how the charity sector has become lifeline for many on low income in recent years, with one third of lone parents saying they would struggle without the charity help they receive, while families with children over the age of 11 are most likely to have used a charity in the last year."

Charity cases: Who uses what?

Alison, 34, police officer, single mother

Charities used: housing association; charity shops; breakfast / afterschool clubs; Scouts; boxing; keep-fit groups
Benefit gained: £9,606–£11,301 a year

Ben, 52, sales executive, married, two older children

Charities used: local caravan club; counselling services for daughter’s health condition
Benefit gained: £3,616–£4,255 a year

Charlene, 45, accountant, married, young daughter

Charities used: debt advice; partner used self-help support group; advice / campaign group for daughter’s allergy
Benefit gained: £2,037–£2,396 a year

Dani, 46, unemployed, single

Charities used: charitable counselling service; debt advice and charitable grants; volunteering with community centre
Benefit gained: £8,414–£9,899 a year

Eric, 46, lighting engineer, widower

Charities used: charitable counselling service associated with partner’s terminal illness
Benefit gained: £31,200–£36,706 a year

Fiona, 33, teaching assistant, married, infant son

Charities used: playgroup; vocational training / qualification
Benefit gained: £2,210–£2,599 a year