Giving in the UK and USA

Giving in the UK is often compared with American philanthropy. This resource offers a brief overview of the similarities and differences in giving between the two countries.

Giving levels

Giving in the UK was 1.1% of GDP in 2006, half that of the USA, but higher than giving in other European countries (Table 1). The largest share of American giving (32.8%) went to churches and religious organisations. An important factor is the role of the state in social welfare provision. In continental Europe, the state typically plays a stronger role in social welfare provision than in the UK, with fewer, if any, tax incentives to encourage philanthropy. In the USA, private philanthropy plays a more prominent role than it does in the UK.

Table 1: International comparisons of giving: 2006

Country Giving (£bn) (£bn) GDP (£bn) Giving/GDP
UK 14.9 1230 1.1%
USA 145.0 6500 2.2%
Germany 11.3 1533 0.7%
The Netherlands 2.9 340 0.9%

Source: CAF Charity Trends, Giving USA, Then & Spengler (2005 data), Geven in Nederland (2005 data)


Giving culture

Philanthropy in the USA is more institutionalised than it is in the UK, with the rich seen as having a ‘duty’ to give. The most wealthy 10% account for about half of all individual giving in the USA; in Britain it is only a fifth. In the UK, charitable giving traditionally has been considered ‘private’, though this is changing. However, wealth is much more concentrated in America. The most wealthy 10% of the population represent 70% of the nation’s wealth. In the UK, the figure is 56% (Table 2).

Table 2: Mass affluent (most wealthy 10%) represent:

% of nation’s wealth % of giving
UK 56 21
USA 70 50

Source: CAF, Giving USA

Giving potential

There is potential for the mass affluent to double their giving, according to Philanthropy UK. Applying the USA giving/wealth ratio to the UK suggests that the mass affluent in Britain could represent roughly 40% of giving. Similarly, a 2004 CAF survey found that many of the ‘higher social groups’ felt they could afford to “double their giving”.

American households with annual incomes over $200,000 give 7.4% to charity. UK households with similar income give 1.2%, according to CAF (Table 3). However, the data, albeit limited, seem to suggest that of the wealthy who do give, many give generously, and often at levels comparable to those in the US. Philanthropy UK research, published in Why Rich People Give, revealed that giving levels by the interviewees ranged from 2% to 25%, and were most commonly reported as between 5% and 10%.

Table 3: Giving as a proportion of income

Household income over £200,000
USA 7.4%
UK (CAF research) 1.2%
UK (Why Rich People Give) 5-10%

Source: Philanthropy UK, CAF, Giving USA

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