Letters: When charity begins to look like a tax cut

The following letters appear in the 16 September edition of The Independent

Independent Voices@IndyVoices
Tuesday 15 September 2015 18:40

When is charitable giving just a price cut? Memphis Barker (15 September) is correct to question what exactly makes up a charity.

Yesterday I visited a historic country house, and, even though there was more wealth in every room than most people could ever own, I discovered that I could gift aid my ticket.

To do this I had to pay an additional 10 per cent on the ticket price, for which I received a voucher worth 15 per cent to use in their shops or restaurant. They even showed a nice table to indicate that by gift aiding the ticket price would be 5 per cent cheaper. Was I giving to charity or just getting a cheaper ticket?

Furthermore, as a higher-rate tax payer, by gift aiding I will receive an additional 20 per cent back as a tax rebate. So overall a 25 per cent price cut for me. Some charity!

Steve Horsfield

Hoby, Leicestershire

I am astounded at Memphis Barker’s stance on charities’ universal eligibility to gift aid. It’s not as if it’s me who benefits from my donations or the tax relief on them as he implies.

I support several charities, some actively and others financially. Would Mr Barker seek legislation to prevent me taking a day’s unpaid leave from employment, then offering my services to a charity for free? How much more efficient for me to work as normal then gift the fruits of my labour (before tax) to one or more charities. They can then employ people with more appropriate skill sets for their needs – and who will then pay tax.

As for some charities (human suffering) being more “worthy” than others (arts, animal and educational charities) that is surely reflected in the respective levels of giving the nation chooses.

The answer to the dilemma of the poor paying more tax so the rich can claim gift aid tax breaks on their giving is, surely, to tax the rich more.

Dr John Bailey

Preston, Lancashire

Memphis Barker assumes that “a charity”’ is a group that does good. He is not alone. Essentially the law says you must register as a charity if you have “charitable aims”. The law (before Blair’s government messed about a bit, trying to take “charitable status” from pubic schools) defined four “charitable aims”: “the furtherance of religion”, “the furtherance of education”, “the relief of the poor”, and “the relief of the sick”. Blair didn’t really change things much.

Memphis Barker’s example of “lifting a child out of poverty” is not a “charitable aim”: giving money and goods to relieve the effects of poverty is a charitable aim. Lifting people out of poverty, or having the aim of eradicating poverty, are not “charitable aims”, they are political, so a group with those aims would not qualify for tax relief.

Oxfam is an excellent example: when they began their aim was “the relief of the poor” in places such as Africa; fine, they registered as a charity and got the tax relief. However, when they went to Africa, they started to understand that the cause of famines was not the African climate, or African farmers’ incompetence, but Western behaviour. That is why there are now two Oxfam groups, one a registered charity, and one a campaigning organisation.

In short, you don’t enjoy the tax relief if you are trying to change the status quo.

Henrietta Cubitt


Court charges that the poor cannot pay

I was appalled to see (11 September) that the Tories are now going to employ (at vast public expense) an outsourcing firm to harass the poor unfortunates faced with court fines and charges they can’t possibly pay.

This government’s undeclared class war on the poor, the disabled, the unemployed and the simply unfortunate is getting really vicious – is there nothing we middle-class British people, with our tradition of kindness and concern for the plight of our less fortunate countrymen and women, can do to mitigate the harshness of these millionaire Tories?

Could we not set up and give money to a charity that would pay these court fines for these desperate people?

Tony Cheney


Please keep up your brilliant campaign against the criminal court charge. Here in Oxford a homeless man who stole a pair of children’s shoes was sentenced to the court levy of £150 in addition to some small fines.

He will probably be unable to pay, will appear in court again and may receive a prison sentence.

He will then never get a job because of his prison record. A life ruined, the prison system overburdened, and a child still without shoes. Can this be the 21st century?

Jane Jakeman


Smartphones in the classroom

Are there really schools where children are allowed to use smartphones in lessons (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, 14 September)?

And did the National Union of Teachers really say that “smartphones can be part of successful teaching and learning strategies”?

Was that really the headteachers’ union talking about the “positive role these devices can play in learning”? Then inexplicably adding: “Phones and tablets are part of modern life”?

I don’t know why they didn’t add crystal meth, laughing gas and drone strikes to that list.

You have to ask whether any of these characters has ever been in an ordinary classroom where the entry of a wasp is enough to destroy what little concentration there was for at least 30 minutes. Add smartphones to such situations and you might as well pack up.

Remember that the neediest pupils are the ones who miss out when distraction of any sort is allowed to escalate. And you don’t need an education tsar to tell you that; just use common sense.

Martin Murray

London SW2

Remember the good New Labour did

Oh dear, more Blair-bashing letters (15 September).

The Blair/Brown era got many things wrong. But it got more things right, improving the lot of the poorest and disadvantaged in particular.

People who know about these things, like Paul Krugman, demonstrate that Labour got things right before and during the financial crisis; that the “labour mess/austerity” agenda is simply canny PR from the Tories.

Instead of continually buying into the Tory agenda by decrying the many great aspects of the Blair/Brown legacy, the party needs to remind voters of all the good that was achieved in that period: turning the country round after years of self-interested Tory rule; and the crying need for “one nation” Labour government to do the same again. The left and right of the party need to find common ground around that or they are both letting the country down.

David Carr

Bexleyheath, Kent

Jeremy Corbyn has created a shadow minister specifically for mental health. This is more, after a few days, than the Coalition and the current Tory government have done in over five years.

A significant number of mental health trusts have had to cut their budgets. Iain Duncan Smith wants to remove mental illness from the criteria for vulnerability as regards benefit claims: that will be good for the mental health of people who suffer from mental illness, adding to their stress and demonising them.

Attitudes to mental illness among many Tories are archaic.

At least in this respect Corbyn has stood to his principles. I await the results with optimism, having worked all my life in the field trying to reduce stigma and increase understanding.

R Kimble


It must have been kismet that on the very day Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader ITV had scheduled Back to the Future, a 1980s classic, as its late afternoon film. Unlike Marty McFly in the sci-fi movie, I doubt Labour will go on to experience a happy ending.

Martyn P Jackson

Cramlington, Northumberland

Keep voting till we get the right answer

One presumes, should Scotland eventually vote for independence from the UK in one of what now appears to be a stream of proposed referendums, that Scots will have no opportunity to vote to rejoin the UK later if they realise they are in error (“Salmond in volte-face on independence vote”, 15 September)?

The laws of statistics state that at some point the electorate will vote for independence. This being so, why not just grant Scotland independence now and save the fuss of repeated referendums while we await the SNP’s favoured result?

Michael O’Hare

Northwood, Middlesex

The palliative care gamble

I doubt politicians who voted against the assisted dying bills on the grounds that high-quality palliative care ensures a dignified death will bother to fund its availability for everyone.

Having seen many parishioners dumped in ghastly psycho-geriatric wards I will be off to Zurich, and wish those who place their trust in Holyrood and Westminster the best of luck.

Rev Dr John Cameron

St Andrews, Fife

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