Lord Browne: A new age of philanthropy?

Lord Browne of Madingley spoke at the Royal Society of Arts this evening arguing we need to adopt a new model of funding which strikes a balance between state funding and private philanthropy.

Read an excerpt from Lord Browne's speech below or download a PDF of the full version.

The history of philanthropy shows that state provision is only a recent phenomenon. From ancient Greece to Andrew Carnegie, via organised religion, successful artists, and the bankers of the middle Ages, the generosity of individuals has a much richer history.

State provision came about because society had outgrown a system based on private provision. But today, I think we need to find a new balance between philanthropy and the state, my second point this evening.

We start from a remarkably good position. Surveys suggest that the UK is the eighth most generous nation in the world, with UK households devoting around 0.5 per cent of their expenditure to charitable causes, irrespective of how wealthy they are. That is the mark of a decent society, in which people from all backgrounds see philanthropy as a duty and a privilege.

Even in the face of a deep recession, the number of people donating money has remained steady. Philanthropy past and present shows that the innate generosity of human beings has never been in doubt. But changing demographics and the recent recession mean that the burden on the state is growing. As a result, it is coming under pressure to redefine and scale back its contribution in certain areas.

Impact on museums and galleries

The impact on museums, galleries and universities has been significant. It is something I have seen during nearly two decades, first as a Trustee at the British Museum and then at Tate, and while leading an independent review into the funding of higher education. Cultural and educational organisations are increasingly looking beyond the state for their income. At Tate, for example, income from our business activities and corporate brand-building sponsorships represents an increasing part of our funding. But we and others are turning much more frequently to individual supporters, who are now being asked to fund activities which might once have been provided by the state.

The demand on private philanthropy is increasing. The proportion of income given to charity is relatively flat across the income scale, which is a sign that philanthropy is widespread. But it also shows that there is room for giving to become much more progressive, and for the rich to redistribute a greater proportion of their income through philanthropy.

Some would call for that to happen through the tax system. However, we need to compete to attract internationally mobile capital, and a tax rate that is too high would reduce the potential for entrepreneurial growth. Besides, against a backdrop of rising inequality, asking the rich to give more is a decent way of creating a more balanced society.

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