Dour no more

24 April 2015

Back in 2013, NPC enjoyed one of our occasional media coups.

Our research into the public’s donation habits chucked up the sort of factoid beloved of journalists: it turns out the Scots are more generous than the rest of the UK. Those ‘stereotyped jokes about Scottish stinginess’ suddenly looked a bit silly, warned the Guardian. The story got picked up all over the place, and our press office basked in a bit of glory.

Roll on a couple of years and we have another opportunity to think about Scottish attitudes to charity, and how they compare with the rest of Britain. Scotland’s Sunday Post tabloid has dug into lots of charity finance news of late, and this weekend it published new public opinion research into how Scotland’s voluntary sector is viewed.

Warning: Not all polls are equal

Before we begin on the findings, one declaration of interest and one caveat.

My colleague Iona Joy is quoted in the accompanying article—some pithy common sense, naturally—so NPC are hardly a disinterested party in the coverage. And the methodology behind the polling needs a couple of notes of caution: Your View K, the company used by the Post, draws on a relatively small sample of 400 people (well under half the number polled by Ipsos MORI for our Matter of trust work last year, for example); and disappointingly there’s no further information on how the results were collected and analysed.

Given this, it is wise to treat the poll as a provocative snapshot of attitudes, rather than an authoritative picture of public opinion. But provocative they certainly are. The Post found:

  • 3 out of 5 respondents said their attitudes towards charities has become more negative over the past decade
  • 4 out of 5 strongly agreed charities should outline how much of every pound donated goes towards good causes and how much on running costs
  • Nearly half insist charity boss pay should be lower than an MP’s wage (of £67,000), and 8 out of 10 believe chief exec wages should be capped
  • 1 in 10 are happy for charity bosses to be paid whatever is “appropriate” but 15% say bosses should do the job for free.

So is anything unusual happening in Scotland? We can glance at NPC’s recent polls covering the whole UK to try and tease out some answers.

Nothing (much) to see here…

The Scottish public broadly agree with the rest of the UK on charity transparency. 80% of the Post’s sample strongly agreed that charities should break-down how they use the money they receive; the nearest equivalent to this statement from NPC, from our Having their say paper last October, commanded the agreement of 82% (‘It’s important to me that charities are clear about how they spend their money’).

And there’s consensus, too, on CEO pay. 42% told us that sector bosses should be paid less than the £67,000 commanded by MPs; the Post found ‘nearly half’ agreed with the same principle. 16% of our Mind the gap sample wanted charity bosses to work for free; the Post found 15%.

… Except that maybe things are a bit more grumpy?

But you could also conclude that Scots seem to be getting grumpier about charities (although the choice of timeframe in the Post makes for an inconclusive comparison). 60% of Scottish respondents said their attitude had grown more negative over the last decade. By contrast, only 23% respondents to Mind the gap said the same, although they were only asked to think back over the previous three years.

Scotland is at the centre of many of the dividing lines currently being drawn around the General Election: SNP coalitions, English Votes for English Laws, an apparent Labour collapse. As civil society adapts to shifting divisions in the months to come, the more we know about public attitudes on both sides of the border the better.