Indian billionaires are failing to help the country’s poor – but it’s more complicated than you think

Yes, charitable donations are rising slower than the rate at which philanthropists’ fortunes are growing, but there’s a reason for that

Michael Mapstone
The Independent Voices

A young Indian ragpicker looks over the city after collecting usable material from a garbage dump at the Bhalswa landfill site in New Delhi ( AFP/Getty )

The UK’s foreign aid budget is a controversial issue and rarely out of the headlines. In the last month alone Esther McVey, a contender to replace Theresa May as prime minister, promised to cut foreign aid spending to 2010 levels to free up an extra £7bn for schools and policing.

Nowhere is the controversy around foreign aid more divisive than in relation to India. In 2015, the UK government vowed to phase out foreign aid to India’s government and there were solid arguments at the time for this policy. After all, India had a thriving space programme, a rapidly growing economy, and more billionaires than the UK. The government made good on that promise, although £98m of the foreign aid budget will go to private Indian enterprises in the next two years to develop new markets.

There has been talk recently that Indian philanthropists are not doing enough to tackle inequality at home. The inference is that as wealth levels have rocketed amongst India’s new elite, this has not been matched by a significant increase in charitable giving. Whilst this is true to an extent – and there is data to back up this assertion – it is vital to consider the context here. Yes, giving levels amongst Indian elites lag behind their contemporaries in America and Europe. But rather than accepting this at face value, let’s try to understand why Indian philanthropy is developing more cautiously than some observers would like.



Categories: Asia, India

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