Katy Guest: Shame on the rich who refuse to give to charity

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The Independent Online

You know what it's like when you come late to a wedding list and all that is left on the happy couple's wish list is an item of cleaning equipment and a dining room table costing £5,000? Then spare a thought for the guests of Mr and Mrs Rooney.

Last week it was revealed that guests at last year's £10m wedding were less than generous with their donations towards the future happiness of the young couple. But not in the usual way. For, where some couples ask their loved ones for Egyptian cotton sheets, Le Creuset pans and Sabatier knives (the better to preserve the illusion that they have just moved out of their parents' homes to take their first faltering steps on an exciting and mysterious new life and have not in fact been shacked up together cooking stews and breeding like rabbits for the past 15 years), Wayne and Coleen asked their guests not to give presents but to donate to a hospice. And not many people did.

The Claire House hospice in the Wirral, which regularly looks after the bride's 10-year-old sister, has revealed that it did not, as has been reported, receive donations totalling £2m from the starry crowd. Instead, between them, guests including Wes Brown, John O'Shea and Michael Carrick (the fifth most expensive player ever acquired by Manchester United) coughed up £2,000. The hospice says that just four of the 64 guests made contributions, of an average £500 each. It has not revealed who donated money, or who didn't.

Buskers, Big Issue vendors and the compilers of national statistics know that rich people are notoriously stingy when it comes to giving. Recent figures show that the poorest fifth of British people give away 3 per cent of their income to charity. The richest fifth give away 1 per cent. Scale down that fifth to include only Premier League footballers and their celebrity wives and it looks as though the richest Britons can't quite manage to give anything at all to a struggling cause, unless we are about to discover that half of Comic Relief's £57m this year was secretly donated by an an anonymous consortium of Premier League players.

Charity giving is a complicated science. We are much more likely to help an identifiable individual than a nameless group, say the experts. (A number of generous donors helped out with Jade Goody's wedding; how much do they give to cervical cancer research?) The bystander effect means that we are less likely to help when others are available to do so. (You'd give as much as the next man, but perhaps not if you know that the next man earned £10m for his last transfer.) When faced with an insurmountable problem, we focus on what cannot be achieved rather than what can. And thinking about money, goes the psychology, makes us feel alienated from those we might help. (It is pretty hard to empathise with poverty, I always find, while sipping champagne on board a £40m yacht.)

The Rooneys – who are said to be "extremely disappointed" by the lacklustre performance of their guests – might be interested to know that this is not a universal law. In America, the super-rich and the working poor give about the same proportion of their overall salaries to charity. That makes about 1.7 per cent of the US economy that is magnanimously given away – compared with 0.73 of ours.

Should they want to renew their vows, and want to find a more generous crowd with whom to share the occasion, the couple might perhaps want to move to the States. Failing that, they might find they raise a lot more money if they just hold their next wedding back in Croxteth.