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Reform Gift Aid to strengthen charities in neglected areas, think tank urges

13 Jan 2021 News

The government should reform Gift Aid as part of its work to rejuvenate neglected parts of the UK, a think tank has suggested.

The think tank Onward suggested that the government could match Gift Aid paid on donations to charities based in areas of the country which “need the most support”, to strengthen civil society in regions where social infrastructure is weakest.

It is one of a series of recommendations in the report The Policies of Belonging, which was published yesterday with the backing of more than a dozen members of parliament.

Onward also recommended schemes to maintain volunteer numbers after the pandemic and to train the next generation of charity leaders.

Regional tax breaks

The think tank suggested that the government should establish Charitable Action Zones in some parts of the country, loosely based on the policy of using enterprise zones to try and boost local economies in the 1980s and 1990s.

Targeted tax reliefs and grants to Charitable Action Zones could be used to incentivise donations and volunteering.

The report said: “This could be achieved by further reducing the rate of inheritance tax paid by people giving 10% of their estate to charity, as long as the charity had its object or the bulk of its activity in an enterprise zone area. 

“A tax relief for corporate donations made to charity within the charitable action zone could also be given. 

“Alternatively, the government could match Gift Aid donations to charities registered in specific areas directly from the taxpayer, to give philanthropists an incentive to support causes in the specific parts of the country that need the most support or have the public will.” 

Ideas for maintaining volunteer numbers

Onward also recommended that ministers should find ways to establish long-term versions of some initiatives which began during the coronavirus crisis.

For example, the report says that the government “should create a volunteer army that becomes a permanent fixture of civic society beyond the crisis". 

“The NHS volunteer scheme should be opened up to local community groups, organisations and other public services, and people should be encouraged to become community reservists locally.”

The NHS volunteer scheme attracted 750,000 applications when it was introduced in response to the pandemic in March last year, although fewer than half those volunteers registered have carried out duties.

The report suggested a permanent loosening on the need for stringent background checks on volunteers, as a way to maintain mutual aid groups.

Train up new leaders

The think tank also argued that “a concerted effort to boost the calibre of civic leaders, especially in the places where they are most needed, is likely to have a considerable and sustained impact”.

It recommended: “Ministers should establish a new scheme for civic leaders, through which talented local community organisers and graduates can enter an accelerated progression route in local government, charities or community groups, with training subsidised by the taxpayer for the first few years.” 

Will Tanner: People need ‘a sense of belonging’

Will Tanner, the director of Onward, said: “Everyone focuses on the impact of lockdown on the economy but the truth is that the pandemic has taken a terrible toll on the social fabric of our lives, compounding the long-term decline of community over recent decades. 

“As we emerge – finally – from the pandemic, we need to not just revive a flatlining economy, we need to take steps to empower and recapitalise communities, to give people back a sense of belonging and rekindle the social networks and institutions upon which we all rely.”

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