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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 April 2012

The revolting philanthropy of the filthy rich

Pete Mason

Oxford and Cambridge, universities of the elite, are "in revolt" against Chancellor George Osborne's plans to curb tax breaks the filthy rich gain from charitable donations. Yet the whole 'row' is a smokescreen, since it is the working class who are the real philanthropists.

Claiming to be "shocked" by the scale of legal tax avoidance by multi-millionaires, Osborne was apparently unaware that the principal reason the rich give to charities is to avoid paying tax.

Multi-millionaires paid on average 10% income tax, the government has revealed, while most people pay between 20% and 40%.

If the millionaires and corporations paid their majority share of the 120 billion of unpaid taxes, the government's coffers would be overflowing.

Yet Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable backed the howls of upper-class rage.

Writing in the Tory Daily Telegraph, 46 'philanthropists' denied that they give to charity merely to avoid paying tax and then shamelessly declared that, without the tax incentive, their "generosity" would be grievously "undermined"!

The rich give only a pitiful proportion of their disposable income to charity compared to workers. And the total the rich pay is nothing compared to the fund-raising efforts of ordinary workers, without which many charities would quickly flounder.

The rich, the City University in London estimated, donated a mere 2.5%, or 0.5 billion, of their lavish 19 billion 2006/07 bonuses. The general public gave 10 billion while the "very wealthy" gave a mere 1.5 billion (Charity Income Trends, May 2010).

'Rich Philanthropist' myth

The 'rich philanthropist' is little more than a centuries-long self-perpetuated myth. "[M]ore is done by the workers than the bourgeoisie for the maintenance of the poor", wrote Friedrich Engels in 1845, citing a study by one Dr Parkinson, Cannon of Manchester (The Conditions of the Working Class in England, Oxford World Classics, 1999, p. 135).

In 1888, matchmakers and "philanthropists" Bryant and May erected a statue to the Liberal prime minister Gladstone in London's East End, and gave their half-starved women workers, who died of phosphorous poisoning from the matches they made, the day off to celebrate - and deducted it from their pay. The enraged women cut themselves and bled on the marble in protest. The general (unskilled) trade unions can date their inception from the victorious matchgirls' strike that followed soon after.

100 years ago Robert Tressell's "ragged trousered philanthropists" not only produced society's goods and services, but of their daily labour, they 'charitably' (but involuntarily) gave part to the capitalist as profit. Today workers also have a large chunk deducted in tax (in Tressell's day most workers paid no tax).

Tressell's book was passed round the trenches in World War One, and was thought to have helped Labour come to power for the first time, through the votes of the returning troops, promised but denied 'a land fit for heros', after their charitable sacrifice of lives and limbs to satisfy the avarice of the supposedly philanthropic capitalist class.

Meanwhile, the Con-Dem and previous Labour governments have slashed corporation tax and equally slashed welfare and public services - the social wage - which used to protect the disadvantaged. So the modern ragged trousered philanthropists organise charity events and give generously with what little they have left after profit and tax, for the 'maintenance of the poor', as they did 150 years ago.

Here's for ending the need for charitable giving, starting with the charitable donation of the unpaid labour of the working class to company profits, by taking the capitalist companies that dominate the economy into public ownership and democratically planning society to ensure everyone's needs are supported, not just those of the "1%".


George Osborne's threat to cap charitable donations from rich donors has backfired on the hapless Chancellor.

Stung by criticism that his recent budget benefitted the richest at the expense of the poorest in society, Osborne attempted to show that he could be tough on the rich by closing a tax avoidance loophole.

However, his (and previous Labour chancellors') cuts in public services have made people more dependent on charities for such services.

So by cutting charities' income he has now been accused of wrecking the voluntary sector - the very core of the Tories 'Big Society' hokum.


The 100 wealthiest people in Britain gave away just over a pitiful 1% of their wealth last year - a penny in every pound of their billions of disposable income, yet this was the highest proportion in more than a decade, the Independent reports (30 April 2012).

The miserable capitalist class were put to shame by the Yorkshire painter David Hockney, who gave away 200% of his wealth - "His donations are more than double his estimated 34m wealth."

The same report explains that the Giving List, which "provides a detailed portrait of Britain's most generous people" showed that "Despite Britain now being home to 77 billionaires - four more than the previous year - only three" appear on the list.

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In The Socialist 18 April 2012:


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