It's time Osborne reined in the charity monster

Charity Gift Aid

What have you done for charity asked a jolly tweet earlier this week? My answer? Rather more than I wanted to. I've worked really very hard and paid a lot of tax. Some of that tax has gone on Gift Aid (see my earlier blogs on the outrage that is Gift Aid). That's what I've done for charity.

Why is it more than I wanted to? Because all the money that has poured from taxpayer pockets into charitable pockets hasn't been used in ways that I much like. That's partly because a good number of charities do things that I don't consider to be priorities for a debt ridden state such as ours (supporting donkeys abroad and obsessing over red squirrel numbers).

I'd prefer that we paid out much, much less in Gift Aid, and were we to find any spare cash as a result, to spend it on better primary school education. But it is also because too many of the charities that do, on the face it work in areas it is hard to disapprove of, behave so badly (paying hundreds of staff more than the taxpayer pays George Osborne), and with such entitlement that it is time for a discussion about the strings attached to the taxpayer money they get their hands on too.

We've been having this conversation here for some years now, but it has been thrown into pretty sharp relief by the death of Olive Cooke. Charitable fund-raising these days is, as Libby Purves points out in The Times, a big and merciless business.

Make one donation on your phone, respond to a chugger or waver during a cold call and that's it: you are committed to "life on that organisation's pitiless radar". Charity is, says Purves "up on a moral high horse, exploiting guilt and monetising pity, often spending lavishly on senior staff and flashy offices, addicted to sanctimonious political lobbying". It "is becoming a monster".

Indeed it is. At the beginning of the coalition term, Osborne had a go at reining in Gift Aid (the thing that really allows all this). He has more power now. It's time for another go.

Alternative investments
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It's time Osborne reined in the charity monster

Fine wine is one of the best-performing asset classes of the last 20 years, and prices are still going up as demand from China hits new highs - particularly at the top end of the red wine market.

However, there are no guarantees that this trend will continue, and the experts recommend that nobody goes anywhere near wine as an investment unless they can afford to lose a substantial proportion of their money - or if they would be happy drinking their losses.

They highlight that in 2008 and 2011, the market saw some serious slips - in fact in 2011 it fell 30% - so it’s important to be alive to the risks

We’re used to the idea of the value of cars falling over time, but desirable classic cars can actually gain in value. The most desirable handful of cars have seen their value double in the past four years, while even the kinds of classics that most people can afford are increasing in value by anything up to 20% a year.

However, as with all of these alternative investments, this isn’t guaranteed to continue in the future, so you should never invest what you cannot afford to lose.

Buyers also need to bear in mind that unless they are keeping the car in mint condition in a garage, they need to pay to keep it on the road - which can easily cost £1,000 a year - more if something big goes wrong.

Some owners think of this as the price they pay for the hobby of owning the car - quite aside from the investment - but if you consider the two together, it’s easy to see how even if the car itself increases in value, you’ll end up paying out more than you gain.

According to Knight Frank, antique furniture has had the worst run of all of the luxury investments. Prices fell 8% last year, and are down 22% in five years and 24% in ten.

This is partly because older antique furniture is falling out of fashion. As a result, more fashionable early and mid 20th century pieces have done better, and are up 29% in ten years.

Passing fashions make this a particularly volatile investment, so in this case more than any other, investors should buy things because they want to see them in their home - with the handy side-effect of a potential increase in value if they buy something iconic and unusual.

And while they should buy the best they can afford, they need to ensure they do not spend more than they can lose - or choose to keep in the lounge if the bottom falls out of the market.

Investing in rare coins is one of the most buoyant parts of the alternative market at the moment - with values up 10% in a year, 90% over five years, and 221% over ten years. However, this is definitely an area for experts, because unless you know what you are doing it’s easy to be taken in by counterfeits, doctored coins, and dealers who encourage you to spend more than the coin is worth.

Most people tend to start collecting coins as a hobby, investing to own something they love, hoping they will see some gains, but willing to take a loss on their collection if they ever had to sell. With this sort of approach, the big gains are likely to be well beyond your reach, as they are focused on the top end of the market. However, it should protect you from unaffordable losses if the value of your collection drops.


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