The problem of riches: is philanthropy a solution or part of the problem?

Beth Breeze

in Social Policy Review 20

Published by Policy Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9781847420763
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447303473 | DOI:
The problem of riches: is philanthropy a solution or part of the problem?

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This chapter is a response to the call for research agenda focusing on the ‘problem of riches’. It suggests that the topic of philanthropy fits within this agenda yet is under-researched in the social sciences. In this chapter, original research into the distinctive features of contemporary UK philanthropists is presented, based on a secondary analysis of the governing documents, annual reports and other documentary evidence relating to the philanthropic acts of 150 of the most significant major UK donors in the 2006. Drawing on the literature, the chapter then discusses the ways in which philanthropy can both solve and contribute to the problem of riches. Both the data and literature review are used to evaluate the extent to which significant charitable gifts made by wealthy people can tackle the ‘problem of the riches’ such as inequality, the tension between private affluence and public squalor and the promotion of happiness. The chapter ends by concluding that philanthropy is often perceived to be part of the problem of the riches, but at the same time, it also has the potential to become a viable solution.

Keywords: problem of riches; philanthropy; UK philanthropists; charitable gifts; wealthy people; inequality; private affluence; public squalor; promotion of happiness

Chapter.  7938 words. 

Subjects: Social Research and Statistics

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