Leading article: Scrooge in the City

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The Independent Online

It is just as well that James Laing so loves his Staffordshire bull terrier. It led his wife to bid an impressive 25,150 to win the chance to have the beast immortalised on an embroidered cushion by our columnist Tracey Emin in our Christmas Appeal auction. Several other lots raised massive amounts. The total raised was even more than last year.

But that goes against the overall downward trend in giving to charity. A recent survey for Britain's charities found that though 54 per cent of Britons had given to good causes in the previous four weeks, that figure was 3 per cent down on the previous year. Over the past 12 months, giving has fallen from 9.7bn to 9.5bn. In the changed pattern of donations, men have become more parsimonious, giving 5 per cent less, where women were down just 1 per cent. The largest drop came from people aged between 25 and 44.

Personal donations have slipped 200m on the year before. It was the first time the figure has fallen since the survey began. And 200m less is a big problem for charities that have grown used to their budgets expanding by between 4 and 9 per cent per annum.

Even so, as a nation, we feel shamefaced when confronted with the reality of our meanness. An opinion poll for YouGovStone among 700 influential business leaders, including chief executives, managing directors and top City managers, last week showed that 80 per cent felt that the nation's chief generators of financial growth do not do enough for charity. As the City doles out 7.4bn in personal bonuses, total charitable income in the UK has barely shifted, in real terms, for a decade. Scrooge is alive and well off and living in Europe's wealthiest financial district.

But if things feel tighter for the affluent and that includes, in global comparative terms, almost everyone reading these words how much grimmer must they look for the most vulnerable people on the planet. In the coming days, we will try to incarnate that fact in stories about the three charities in our Christmas Appeal. Each works among people living on the edge of existence in our world of plenty street children, indigents doomed to live on rubbish dumps, hunter-gatherers driven from their land to protect endangered animals, young girls sold into slavery. We hope their stories will inspire you to a countercultural generosity.

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