We are a nation of haves and have-nots, according to SBS’s new season of Filthy Rich & Homeless. Putting five of the most well-known and privileged Australians into the shoes of Australia’s 116,247 homeless people, the program begs the question: How many of us would swap our lives for even one day of homelessness - and how generous are we, really?
The truth is, some Australians are more active altruists than others and, overall, we’re less giving than once before.
The Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index 2017 illustrates an Australia that is a generous nation, but one that has slipped out of the top five of giving countries overall and has dropped 10 per cent, from 3rd to 9th place, in terms of donating money. Spanning 139 countries and compiled from Gallup data, the British tally finds Australia is not alone - many developed nations’ giving has dropped.
The number of Australians claiming tax-deductible donations has declined year-on-year since 2010
Australian Tax Office data reflect a similar decline. Analysis of ATO figures by the QUT Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies found a 8.9 per cent fall, or $221 million, in charitable donations in 2015-16 compared to the previous year, the first time the overall amount of giving has dropped since 2009-10. What’s more, the number of Australians claiming tax-deductible donations has declined year-on-year since 2010.
Sarah Davies, chief executive of Philanthropy Australia, points out that the fall in the overall donation amount is a break in an almost decade-long trend, representing the first year since the GFC when annual giving did not increase. But, while Australia’s relative generosity should be celebrated, we must not be complacent, she warns.
“There are a lot of myths out there about giving and the worth of giving,” she says. “We’ve got a long way to go in this country, I think, to really understand giving and how important [giving] is and how it benefits everybody.”
She says that negative reactions to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s donation of his entire $528,000 salary to charity - the PM was lambasted on Twitter for “feathering his nest” by advantaging from giving-associated tax breaks - are an example of Australia’s divided attitude to giving.
“We have a very odd view of giving in Australia. And I think that we’re a bit polarised about it,” she says. “If you look at some of the ridiculous comments out there judging [Mr Turnbull], they’re really sad … He’s chosen to give [his money] away for the benefit of other people, and yet we slam that and that’s awful. There are a lot of myths out there about giving and the worth of giving.”
Giving is about feeling part of a community that you want to be in and you want to contribute to
So, why the slump in Australian giving? Davies echoes University of Queensland economist Professor John Quiggin, who speculates that the CAF figures may be linked to the popular notion that Australians are “doing it tough”.
“On the one hand there are good reasons why lots of Australians are feeling disappointed with their economic situations,” he says.
“Against that, Australians remain very well off compared to most of the world, and most people are in a position where they could donate money to a charitable cause by forgoing some luxuries.
“Assuming that the measured decline is real, it might be argued that people are paying more attention to the negatives here than to the positives, and that the presentation of issues by politicians and the media encourages this.”
Either way, it’s clear we need to do more to alleviate poverty - and to take a leaf out of Myanmar’s book. For the fourth year running, the developing nation wracked by allegations of violence against the Rohingya people, is the CAF’s most giving country. There, altruism is driven by monasticism, which calls for daily alms donations from across the Burmese socio-economic spectrum. And across Africa, giving is on the rise, according to the index.
“Giving is not about money,” says Davies. “Giving is about feeling part of a community that you want to be in and you want to contribute to and you want to build and you want everybody to benefit from. So, giving is actually about sharing.”
Top 10 most giving countries:
United States of America
United Arab Emirates
Filthy Rich & Homeless season 2 airs over three nights starting on Tuesday 14 August 8.30pm on SBS. You can also stream the show anytime on SBS On Demand. Join the conversation with #FilthyRichHomeless.