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How philanthropy benefits the super-rich

There are more philanthropists than ever before. Each year they give tens of billions to charitable causes. So how come inequality keeps rising? By Paul Vallely

Philanthropy, it is popularly supposed, transfers money from the rich to the poor. This is not the case. In the US, which statistics show to be the most philanthropic of nations, barely a fifth of the money donated by big givers goes to the poor. A lot goes to the arts, sports teams and other cultural pursuits, and half goes to education and healthcare. At first glance that seems to fit the popular profile of “giving to good causes”. But dig down a little.

The biggest donations in education in 2019 went to the elite universities and schools that the rich themselves had attended. In the UK, in the 10-year period to 2017, more than two-thirds of all millionaire donations – £4.79bn – went to higher education, and half of these went to just two universities: Oxford and Cambridge. When the rich and the middle classes give to schools, they give more to those attended by their own children than to those of the poor. British millionaires in that same decade gave £1.04bn to the arts, and just £222m to alleviating poverty.

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