A million new givers?

NCVO has been examining the election manifestos and on page 45 of the Conservative Party manifesto is an eye-catching claim relating to charitable giving. It says:

Charitable donations are on the up, with one million more people giving to good causes than at the end of the last Parliament.

In the spirit of the blog on volunteering rates I decided to take a look at the evidence supporting the claim.

No source for the claim is offered in the manifesto. My guess is it comes from the Community Life Survey, the previous Labour government’s preferred source of evidence for volunteering and charitable giving.

Charitable Giving (table 5) provides statistics for an estimated proportion of people in England giving to charity in the four weeks prior to respondent interviews. The data gives a figure of 75 per cent in 2013/14, and 72 per cent in 2010/11 – a rise of three per cent, approximately 1.5m people.

On the face of it, the results support the manifesto claim. But as is common with statistics the full story is more complicated. There are a few reasons why.

We are comparing two different surveys

The Community Life Survey replaced the Citizenship Survey, covering a period to 2011. The surveys overlap. There are differences in methodology, sample size and method of data collection. I believe variations should make us cautious about comparing the surveys to establish levels of change.

The long term picture looks different

The Conservative party has chosen a period of time when it was in office as a reference point. Alternative periods give different pictures. Survey results in 2005 show levels of giving were 79 per cent – four percent higher than in 2013/14. As found with volunteering rates, the period referred to can influence results.

Other data sources give different answers

The Community Life Survey is not the only source of information on the proportion of the population giving to charity. The Charities Aid Foundation CAF UK Giving survey (formerly produced with NCVO) asked detailed questions about giving. This survey reports 44 per cent of respondents gave to charity in the month prior to taking the survey, a much lower figure than was found in the Community Life Survey.

There is some discussion on the reasons for the variation (see page seven). It is likely this is due to the definitions applied and screening questions used. Unfortunately, due to changes in methodology, CAF does not provide historical comparisons for this figure and we cannot make a judgement on why it has changed.

NCVO’s UK Civil Society Almanac suggests charities have received more income from individuals. Data suggests this has been driven by individuals paying for services (earned income) as much as by donations.

Public generosity

As with volunteering, the long term picture for charitable giving is remarkably resilient – the public are generous when it comes to giving to charity, and this generosity appears to be consistent over time.

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David Kane was formerly NCVO’s Senior Research Officer. He discusses open data and emerging trends in the voluntary and community sector and wider civil society.

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