Ross Clark

Why the British are so mean

Pity the poor charities, says Ross Clark. We are a nation of skinflints, and the rich are the least generous of all

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Much as I sympathise with those caught up in petty local government bureaucracy, every so often there emerges a sob story which somehow fails to tug the heartstrings. Last week in the Daily Mail, cancer fundraiser Ipek Williamson was moaning that Cotswold District Council had wiped out the profit from a garden party she had held in the grounds of her 17th-century manor house in Kempsford, near Cirencester. She thought she had made a profit of £160, to be divided between Macmillan Cancer Relief, Marie Curie Cancer Care and the local cottage hospital, but her takings had been turned into a loss of £10 after the council demanded she buy a public entertainments licence for £170. ‘It is crazy,’ said Mrs Williamson. ‘It could have been a terrific gain for charity. I think it is a terrible injustice that charities have now been denied this money.’

I am sure Mrs Williamson’s garden party, at which 50 guests were served tea and listened to a jazz band, was a thoroughly enjoyable occasion, and of course it is absurd that a garden party should need a public entertainments licence. But still I am left with a nagging question: isn’t a haul of £160 just a tad on the mingy side for a charity garden party attended by 50 people at a country house in one of the most well-heeled corners of the English countryside? It isn’t that the good folk of Kempsford are untypical; on the contrary, they exemplify the attitude towards charitable giving shown by well-off Britons. To external appearances, we are an extremely generous people. You can’t move far without bumping into a poster for a fun run or church f