Monday, 1 February 2010

Gift Aid Reform; your havin a larf!

Today representatives of various sector umbrella bodies meet at the Treasury to talk about gift aid reform. Again. I shall not be there.

There are generally two types of meetings in Government. One, the "let's sort it out" meeting. The other, the "we're too polite to say get lost" meeting. The meeting today probably falls into the later category. And what a shame that is.

This against the background of a fall in giving, rising costs in charities and dramatic increases in demand for services.

The tragedy in Haiti shows the importance and power of Britain's international NGOs. Yet the huge generosity of the British public is but a flea bite against the size of the bankers bonuses. Just note that Morgan Stanley alone has set aside $14.4bn for bonus payments; think what that could do in rebuilding savaged Haiti!

But in the absence of a spirit of repentance in the banks we have to rely on the generosity of the public. That is why the gift aid scheme is so important. And why it is essential that it is reformed so that the £700m we lose to the Treasury each year can go where it is needed: to Britain's great and marvellous army of charities who make a difference.

As Oxfam and Save the Children, UNICEF and the Red Cross toil in terrible conditions to support and comfort those who survived the earthquake but have no homes or jobs, I wonder who it was that thought it might be a good wheeze to brief a story in the press on gift aid abuse?

A less than generously minded "official" from HMRC is warning that, according to The Guardian "giving your stuff to the charity shop can have tax implications". And we are treated to a lecture on capital gains tax and other horrors that may accompany your kindly gift of clothes and books. Mr Scrooge is not just for Christmas clearly! He is alive and well and wandering the corridors of HMT.

Headed "Gift Aid - beware the hidden catch" it is hard to imagine a more insensitive and anal story. Coming at a time when we need people to give more generously and when charity shops are low on stock this proves a deadly backdrop to the talks taking place today.

So we shall see. My Head of Policy will go. He will report back. And who knows? I may be surprised. Perhaps Ian Pearson MP, the Treasury Economic Secretary, will have a surprise for us. A commitment to action. A decision even. We certainly need that.

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