Martin Lewis: What happened to my pledge to give £10m to charity – 2021 update

2023 Update: Please read the latest 2022/23: Martin Lewis Charity Fund blog to find out what’s happened to the fund. The blog below is now out of date.

In June 2012 MSE joined the MSM Group and I pledged £10m to charity. As it was a public pledge, I believe I've a duty of transparency, so every couple of years I bash out a report blog (the last was Jan 19) to explain where I'm up to, and who gets the money. And 2020 was a year like no other.

Normally my charity ventures are planned and have time to gestate. This year my Coronavirus Poverty Fund had to be set up at speed, even though more money went to it than anything from my charity fund before. More on that below, but this is primarily a stats blog, so…

The big picture: the £10m has become nearer to £20m… 

  • £11m is the total I've now put into charity funds, including Gift Aid (or equivalent).
  • £2m of this was direct funding to Citizens Advice.
  • £9m was put into a Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) fund. This works like a charity bank account – I control the money, but can only use it to make charitable-type donations (anyone can do this from £10/month – see charity accounts).
  • £7.9m of that £9m has now gone to specific charities (detailed below), so that's total donations of £9.9m so far when Citizens Advice is included. 

The good news – there's still £10.4m left in the CAF fund. If you think this doesn't add up, you're right. There's still about the same amount left as I started with, even after giving nearly £10m away. This is primarily because the investments I have a large chunk of the charity money in did well. Though I've now moved it to safer shores.

With the remaining money, as always I like to focus on larger donations to projects I'm actively engaged in, rather than just writing a cheque, and I do research and planning for max impact. So I aim to keep disbursing the money gradually, as and when appropriate.

Below I also mention c. £5m of other donations not listed above, either as they're not funded by me directly, or as I made them before I started the charity fund.

Where the money has gone so far… the big projects

  1. New in 2020: The 'Martin Lewis Coronavirus Poverty Fund': £3.4m (£2.1m from me, £1.3m raised). In March 2020, my aims were simple…

    - to provide urgent relief to those struggling due to the pandemic
    - to use my profile to bring in other donations (I started before the official fundraising scheme was in place)
    - to help via small charities, to help them survive too – including foodbanks, domestic abuse charities, cancer groups and more

    At the final tally, I'd put £2.1m in and wonderfully, after asking others with deep pockets to join, they added £1.3m, all of which meant 415 small charities received an average of £8,000 each at speed.

    For full details, including a breakdown of where the money went and how we decided, see my Covid poverty fund – where the money went blog.

    NB: While the external donations technically went into my charity fund, so they could be shared and paid out, I haven't included them in my charity fund totals at the start of the article.

  2. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute: £2.5m (c. £500,000 funding a year – a further £1.2m future funding already pledged). I set up the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) in 2016 and chair the trustees. Its core job is research and advocating non-partisan policy change to break the toxic link between mental health issues and debt.

    The donation funds 11 full-time members of staff – who are all passionate about the subject and brilliant at what they do. The team's impact has already shifted the way mental health is dealt with in financial and consumer sectors, and among politicians and regulators. See my recent The incredible change MMHPI has delivered blog for more.

    My full core funding pledge runs out in July 2021, at which point I've agreed with the other trustees that I will reduce the donations to 80% of current levels. This isn't as I'm losing faith with the project, it's the opposite. The charity is so successful it can, should and does now raise grants and funds from elsewhere, and I've always wanted MMHPI to be (and it already is) more than just a 'Martin Lewis' vehicle.

  3. Financial education in schools (incl textbook): £1,752,000. Financial education has long been a campaigning priority for me. I worked with the Young Money charity (Pfeg as was) in our successful campaign to get financial education on the English national curriculum in 2014. So the charity seemed a natural partner, and we've done a number of projects...

    - Funding My Money Week from 2016 to 2018, so children in all UK schools get access to free resources and education on managing money. 
    - Funding and developing the first curriculum-mapped financial education textbook, and sending 340,000 to all English state schools (100 per school). Click for a free PDF download.
    - New in 2020: To go with the textbook, a £75,000 donation to fund a new teachers' digital e-learning pack to help teachers learn to teach it.
    - New in 2020: The textbook's success means we're rolling it out with textbooks for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This time, I'm delighted to say the UK's official Money and Pensions Service has agreed to go halves with me on the additional costs, each of us putting in £162,000.

  4. Citizens Advice UK: £2m. Two £1m donations in 2012 and 2015 split across UK nations in proportion to population. I did this partly as I love Citizens Advice's voluntary ethos, but also to expose that debt-counselling funding had been cut by the Government in the recession.

    With the second donation, I was delighted they used the money in England to set up the Martin Lewis Citizens Advice Fund (its choice of name, not mine), giving local branches innovation grants to develop new digital and other ways to reach and help more people – which hopefully has paid dividends during the pandemic.

  5. Trussell Trust financial triage: £600,000. The money was for the Trussell Trust to pilot, then, in 2015, roll out putting financial triage in foodbanks (see Trussell Trust release). Part of the idea was to see if the concept worked so that the foodbanks could then engage councils and other community stakeholders to do it everywhere. It did work.

  6. Grief Encounter (helpline): £186,000. Grief Encounter provides grief counselling and help for children who have lost a parent (or sibling). While I normally focus on charities within my expertise, as those who heard/saw my Radio 5 Live interview will know, this is something that resonates with me.

    I was already a patron of the charity, when a couple of years ago they mentioned the idea of a helpline so children who were struggling had someone they could call. It struck a chord. I wished I'd had such a service, so I agreed immediately to fund setting it up and running a year.

    As that year ended, Covid hit, demand went up, but funding opportunities elsewhere disappeared, so I agreed to fund a second year to keep it going.

  7. The MSE Charity: £252,000. This is the total of my personal donation(s) to the MSE Charity since 2012. I set the charity up in 2007 to give grants to small charities working in consumer education or financial empowerment. 

    This money is separate from MSE's (ie, my) donations before 2012 and MSE's (ie, MSM Group's) donations since. In total they add up to a further £1,165,211 (again this isn't included in my charity fund totals at the top, as it is from a different source).

  8. This one's a cheat. £3m to set up Citizens Advice Scams Action (not my money). In 2018 I started a campaigning lawsuit against Facebook for defamation after it kept publishing huge numbers of scam ads with my name and image in. In 2019, I dropped the case, as part of the settlement it agreed to donate £3m to set up a new anti-scam wing of Citizens Advice, and launch a scam ad reporting tool unique to the UK. For more see Martin Lewis in possibly record settlement with Facebook.

    NB: Clearly this isn't part of the funds I've noted above, but in my head it fits within similar aims.

Where else money has gone...

  • £100,000 to Demos to fund a digital democracy toolkit, to allow policy suggestions to be worked on with the general public rather than just policy wonks.
  • £100,000 to Mind for mental health work.
  • £58,000 to the Support Through Court helpline (originally Personal Support Unit). I'd been a patron of this charity which helps those having to represent themselves in the civil or family courts (due to terrible legal aid cuts). Then Covid hit and its helpline funding ran dry, so I stepped in to help for the year.
  • £35,000 to First Light Trust for financial triage and drug help for military veterans.
  • £31,000 to the LSE mortgage prisoners report. I've long believed the 250,000 unjustly trapped in mortgages due to the financial crash needed help. So this is research work to provide policy solutions.
  • £28,000 (with a further £11,000 pledged over the next two years) to the John Schofield Trust to support mentoring, to help get those from underprivileged backgrounds into my industry, broadcast journalism.
  • £20,000 to the RNIB to support those who have just lost their sight to manage their financial lives.
  • £16,000 to fund the Alzheimer's Society financial services charter.
  • £10,000 to Winston's Wish to help children and young people who have lost a parent.

There are quite a number of donations below £10,000 too, but I think that is a good cut-off point.  

The (attempt at) logic behind these donations 

A 'giving philosophy' does sound a bit pratty to me, but apparently it is the modern term for deciding what donations you make – and I do try to have a logic behind my decisions.

I've always believed, while profit-making, has at its core a public service remit. Its primary job – which since 2012 has been formalised and protected by our Editorial Code – is to provide information to cut people's bills and fight their corner.

Yet I've always realised there are people a website can't reach or help. So as due to MSE's success I'm lucky enough to have substantial charity funds, I want to fill in the gaps that it can't reach. Many of the donations try to do just that. For example…

- Citizens Advice gives one-on-one help, which a website such as MSE can't do.
- MMHPI helps those with mental health issues, which can impair and impact people's ability to help themselves.
- Trussell Trust financial triage helps many who aren't online or don't access crucial information.
- Financial education is there to help prevent future problems.  

And the coronavirus fund came about, as I sat, well, frankly, crying at my desk, overwhelmed with questions, often from people desperate for an answer – but I had no answers to give. I felt I needed to do what I could to change that.

Of course some of the donations, such as those to the John Schofield Trust and Grief Encounter, are more personal, but overall I hope there is some cohesion to my giving.

A friendly but important note to charity fundraisers...

I'm afraid I don't accept or read unsolicited pitches for donations, so please don't waste your already stretched resources doing it. My donations are almost always proactive coming from the work I do, or charities I'm already working with, rather than signing a cheque based on a pitch.  

Other charities I work with (often as a patron)

As we're on the subject of charity, and I feel like I'm self-auditing, I feel that to finish, it is probably also worth noting down those charities I'm a patron of or ambassador for, which I haven't already mentioned.

The Social Mobility Business Partnership, which gives children from underprivileged backgrounds access to professions and work experience so they're not disadvantaged.
National Numeracy campaign, to help improve functional numeracy.