December 31, 2015

The United Kingdom’s top 25 charities by investments include charities for the promotion of health, education and religion. Number 23 on the list stands out for its rather unusual purpose. The National Fund is dedicated to paying off the UK’s national debt. But there’s a catch: the assets of the National Fund can only be distributed until it, either alone or with another fund, can pay off the entire UK national debt.

The National Fund has approximately CAD$830 million in assets. This seems impressive, until one realizes that the UK national debt is approximately CAD$3.36 trillion. The UK adds more to its debt in one day than the entirety of all of the National Fund’s assets. While the trustee of the National Fund may, in cases of “national exigencies”, pay off part of the UK’s debt, but “a substantial part of the national fund” must be maintained.

When an anonymous donor established the National Fund in 1928 with a gift of approximately half a million pounds, he may have believed that paying off the debt was a realistic possibility. Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin had sought voluntary donations from the rich to pay off the UK’s wartime debt. But given the sheer size of the UK’s debt the National Fund will never be able to pay off the UK’s debt in one fell swoop. And so the National Fund continues to accumulate income outside of the grasp of the tax man and seems like it will for the near future.

In 2013, the trustee indicated that it was working to get permission to use the money to make charitable grants – or at least turn it over to the government but it looks like nothing has happened since.

Hopefully, the status quo for this charity will change soon. I’m sure that readers of this blog could come up with many better uses for $830 million than the National Fund. What would you do to improve the world if you could spend those funds?