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Press watch: ‘Philanthropy is no alternative to paying tax’

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‘The brouhaha about George Osborne’s plan to cap tax relief for charitable giving is a textbook case of how ill-informed emotion can derail intelligent policy-making. The chancellor wants an annual limit of £50,000 or a quarter of the donor’s income, whichever is the greater. If we are to believe his critics, he is set on shutting down every benevolent institution from Oxfam to the Lancashire Hedgehog Care Trust ...

‘Mr Osborne’s motives are honourable. Faced with the need for swingeing spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the deficit, he thinks the wealthiest in society should contribute ...

‘Lost in all the wailing has been the simple insight that tax relief is public spending by another name. The deduction on my big-hearted gift to the Royal Opera House could otherwise be used to pay down the deficit or help build a new school – even to cut someone else’s tax bill.

‘The case for entirely open-ended relief rests on the curious premise that charitable giving is invariably superior to public spending. What’s more, it assumes that rich philanthropists always make better choices than voters or elected politicians in deciding what counts as a deserving cause.’

Philip Stephens, Chief Political Commentator, Financial Times: 17 April 2012