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Charity in the time of austerity: in search of the 'Big Society'

Gibbons, Stephen and Hilber, Christian A. L. (2022) Charity in the time of austerity: in search of the 'Big Society'. CEP Discussion Papers (1874). London School of Economics and Political Science. Centre for Economic Performance, London, UK.

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The years after the election of the UK's coalition government in 2010 saw a decline in central funding to local government and a fall in expenditure on a range of local services, including social services. These cuts were backed by a theory that individuals in the community would step in with voluntary action (the 'Big Society') to fill the void left by withdrawal of public support, a specific case of the argument that government activity crowds-out that of private individuals. This paper asks to what extent this vision materialised. Using a large panel survey of individuals linked to detailed local government income and spending data for the period from 2008/9 until 2016/7 we estimate the effect of local public services spending and central government funding on individual caring, voluntary and charitable behaviour. We find some evidence of an association between Local Authority (LA) expenditure cuts and increases in voluntary activity and charitable giving in the area. Using central government funding cuts as an exogenous source of variation in LA spending, we find no effects on any aspects of individual caring, voluntary or charitable action. Overall, we find little support for the proposition that (cutting) public sector spending crowds out (increases) individual philanthropic activities.

Item Type: Monograph (Discussion Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 The Authors
Divisions: Geography & Environment
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HJ Public Finance
H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory
JEL classification: D - Microeconomics > D6 - Welfare Economics > D64 - Altruism
H - Public Economics > H5 - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies > H50 - General
I - Health, Education, and Welfare > I1 - Health > I11 - Analysis of Health Care Markets
I - Health, Education, and Welfare > I3 - Welfare and Poverty > I30 - General
N - Economic History > N3 - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Income, and Wealth > N30 - Economic History: Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Income and Wealth: General, International, or Comparative (Migration)
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2023 09:24
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 23:58

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