04Unmet need I: The geography of local giving

Untapped capacity and missing generosity characterise the landscape of charitable giving in the UK, suggesting more giving could be unlocked in wealthier UK areas. But whether the geography of giving can assist levelling up the country depends on where donations flow to. These flows are determined in part by how local donations relate to local needs. But they are also reflected in the distribution of charitable organisations in relation to need across the country.

Another important factor is where national charities direct their spending. From a levelling up perspective, national charities would ideally direct much of the spending of donations they receive to areas with the greatest need. But data on the geography of how national charities spend their incomes is limited, so this section instead focuses on whether donations from individuals in high need areas stay local and flow to the causes aligned to local need. This requires an understanding of the extent and type of local donations at a sub-national level to grasp whether local donations are helping to tackle national inequalities.

Unfortunately, it seems that local donations on the whole simply reflect these inequalities, limiting their ability to address the geography of need in the UK. High need regions such as Yorkshire, West Midlands, and Wales have fewer and less generous local donations than the far less deprived Greater South East (the North East and North West do better for local donations despite higher deprivation). And the types of local causes receiving donations do not align with local need.

Defining the geography of need

But what is the geography of need? Though there are many ways to measure this, Figure 12 clearly shows that in regional terms the greatest need is in the North of England. Around one fifth of the population in the North East, North West, and Yorkshire & Humber are found in Britain’s most deprived 10 per cent, compared to four per cent in the East, three per cent in the South East, and just two per cent in London. For the geography of giving to meet this geography of need, it would require high local donation rates in the North, West Midlands, and Wales.

Figure 12: The geography of need skews north

Source: mySociety 2020

Note: Based on a composite Index of Multiple Deprivation for Great Britain, harmonising the English, Scottish, and Welsh indices, based on methodology set out in Abel et al. (2016). Based on multiple deprivation scores of LSOAs, adjusted to account for population. Northern Ireland not included as its multiple deprivation index is not comparable

The proportion of people donating to local causes doesn’t track local need

Centre for Cities’ survey asked whether donors gave to local causes, finding significant regional variation in people’s preferences for local giving. Among donors, 58 per cent give to local charities in some capacity in Scotland and the North East. This compares to only 43 per cent in the South East, West Midlands, and Wales.

Figure 13 combines these findings with Understanding Society data on the propensity to give (used in Figure 1) and estimates the impact of differing preferences for local giving. It identifies that propensity to give locally (the dark green bars) does not map to high local need in Yorkshire, West Midlands, and Wales, which have rates under 30 per cent, a similar proportion to London. Further north does better: the North East has the second highest propensity to give locally despite a lower proportion of donors overall (the total height of the dark and light green bars).

Figure 13: Yorkshire, West Midlands, and Wales have similar low proportions of people donating locally to London, despite much higher local need

Source: Understanding Society 2019, Centre for Cities’ survey 2023

Note: Dark green bars give the implied proportion of residents donating to local charities, based on total propensity to give (total height of the bars) and proportion of donators giving to local charities, gathered from the survey

There is better news at the city level. In low affluence cities, 52 per cent of donors give to local charities, versus 45 per cent in high affluence cities. But this would still imply that 21 per cent of residents give locally in affluent Edinburgh compared to only 16 per cent in less affluent Stoke, for example, as more affluent cities have more capacity to give overall (see Figure 5).

It’s a similar story with generosity of donations to local causes

Despite London having the lowest local need, Figure 7 estimates that the capital’s local causes receive the most donations per donor in Britain. At less than £75 per donor, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, and Wales see the lowest amount to local causes, despite higher than average deprivation. In the North East, 46 per cent of the value of donations go to local causes, but the low amount of donations overall keep the total value of local donations per donor lower than the South West.

Figure 14: Wales, Yorkshire, and the West Midlands are least generous to local causes, despite high local need

Source: Understanding Society 2019, Centre for Cities’ survey 2023

Note: Dark green bars give the implied amount of donations per donor to local charities, based on total donations per donor (total height of the bars) and proportion of donation funds given to local charities, gathered from the survey

At the regional level then, it seems that higher need regions such Yorkshire, Wales, and West Midlands diverge from the North West and particularly the North East, where preferences for local giving better aligns with local need both in terms of propensity and generosity of local giving.

The types of local causes donated do not reflect local need

The specific causes that local donations are directed to do not seem to reflect economic needs in different regions (Figure 15). London sees the highest proportion of those donating locally giving to poverty-related causes, higher than the North, Midlands, and Wales which have far higher need. In Wales, three times fewer people give to local charities dedicated to poverty compared to those dedicated to animal welfare and the environment. A similar pattern plays out (to a lesser extent) in the Midlands and the North.

Figure 15: Animals and the environment are more popular local causes than poverty in high deprivation regions

Source: Centre for Cities’ survey 2023

Note: Donors donate to multiple causes, so bars for each region may total to greater than 100 per cent

These outcomes raise the question of how places might encourage more donations targeted at local need. One option is a broad fund that would channel donations to causes that need them most, working directly with local charities. Such a fund has already been a success in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.30 This policy was popular among donors in Centre for Cities’ survey – 56 per cent said it would encourage them to give more locally. This played particularly well in the North East, where almost three quarters supported the policy.


  • 30 The Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity aims to tackle homelessness in the combined authority, directly patronised by the mayor. Since 2017, it has raised over £3 million and supported over 165 local charities