Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Why our rich must give more cash to charity

The idea behind UK Uncut, the anti-tax avoidance campaign, is to force rich businesses to pay more money to the Exchequer. The argument is that a significant number currently use the law (and tax havens) to avoid paying what many people would argue is their fair whack.

It may be a campaign that most of us can buy into. But will it work?

Thus far it's concentrated on protests targeting a number of key retail outlets.

It has disrupted business. But the protests have also inconvenienced shoppers which, in the run-up to Christmas and now in the sales, is a bit like throwing snowballs at the taxi driver you've asked to take you home.

Plus there is also that niggling concern that rich business folk have a bit of a trump card in that they can always pull the plug on the business here, relocate to a more tax-friendly part of the world - and take with them countless jobs.

What it all comes down to is that rich types in the UK don't especially feel under pressure to be seen as latter day Good King Wenceslases.

In the US, by contrast, the rich and in particular the very rich, have gone the other way. Bill Gates (right), Warren Buffet and even young Man of the Year (according to Time magazine) Mark Zuckerberg are among those who have been voluntarily donating vast chunks of their vast fortunes to the common good.

So why over there and not over here?

Possibly because over here the pampered rich are better at talking charity than actually doing a whole lot about it.

Like rock stars and royalty circumnavigating the globe by private jet to lecture the rest of us about carbon emissions and making poverty history, they appear to believe that actually giving is only for the little people.

But could they be shamed into American billionaire-style largesse?

And if we are to take a leaf out of the Yanks' book, why not start with literature itself?

In recent days there has been considerable controversy over a Government decision to withdraw funding from Booktrust. This is a worthy scheme whereby books are provided free to families shortly after a child is born and at later stages in the child's development. The idea - and it is a sound one - is to spark a love of reading.

So when it became known that Government funding was to be dropped there was inevitable outrage within the massed ranks of the literati.

Ex-poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion even called it: "An act of gross cultural vandalism".

Which may well have been a fair verdict.

But at a time when hospitals and schools are also feeling the economic bite, you can also see why cutting back on a book giveaway may have been considered.

So a simple suggestion: couldn't all those rich authors who were so incensed by the cutback plans, including writers who have made mega-millions from children's literature, just club together and fund Booktrust?

Couldn't (shouldn't?) our millionaire celebrity artists be encouraged to contribute to a fund to bolster the arts and museums in these difficult times?

And wealthy rock stars and movie stars and film-makers be persuaded to give generously to help their respective industries?

It's the sort of practical celebrity collaboration that might even spur some in the business community to view giving generously not as a loss but as smart corporate image enhancement.

Tax doesn't have to be taxing.

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