It was reported in many of the papers today that the leaders of all three main political parties have agreed to sign up to Roland Rudd’s “Legacy 10” campaign. This means that they have each pledged to leave 10% of their will to charity. The Legacy 10 initiative is closely linked to a new tax incentive due to come in in April, whereby anyone leaving 10% or more of their net estate to charity can benefit from a reduced rate of inheritance tax (36% rather than 40%), although the campaign is supposed to be broad enough to encompass even those who will be unaffected by the new measure.
Leaving aside specific concerns about the new tax break (namely that it will only apply to a small number of estates, and it doesn’t seem to act as incentive for those who weren’t already intending to leave a charitable bequest), there is a definite positive aspect to this story. The fact that three senior political figures- who spend much of their time at each others’ throats- have put their differences to one side and presented a united front in favour of a charitable giving initiative is an interesting and potentially powerful precedent. There is a lot of talk in policy circles about the importance of role models and social norms, and of the government showing leadership, so it is good to see some practical action that fleshes out this talk.
There are, however, two questions that spring to mind. The first is: do people really see politicians as role models? In idealised policy terms, it obviously makes sense to talk about the importance of leadership by Ministers and MPs, but is the reality that people are too cynical about politicians to take anything they do at face value? Those of us of an optimistic disposition would probably hope not, but there is clearly a danger that if an initiative chooses to use personal pledges from politicians to promote itself, people become more suspicious of the initiative rather than less suspicious of the politicians. That is why it is really important that Legacy 10 has secured pledges from Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, as it at least precludes any question of party politicking.
If we assume that pledges from politicians do have a positive effect, the second question is: Why just legacies? It is great that these high-profile figures have made a pledge about their wills, but if they truly believe that public commitments on their part influence the behaviour of others, why not make a pledge that will have an impact right now? For instance, pledging to give a percentage of their salaries to charity on an ongoing basis and thereby showing a commitment to a social norm around that?
This is an idea we have been plugging for a while at CAF, as we believe that role models can have a major positive impact on the behaviour of others. At the top end of the spectrum, there are initiatives like the Giving Pledge led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in the US (and which it would be great to see replicated in the UK!) But there is also room for a more everyday social norm for those of us without vast sums to give , based on considering how much we earn and thinking about our giving as a percentage of that. It is this kind of aspiration that might benefit from the prompt of Ministers and MPs making a public pledge, in the same way that they have pledged to support Legacy 10.