I was planning on a dash for the aspirin – and then you rang in

Then there are hundreds and hundreds of old soldiers – some of them physically or mentally scarred by their service – who have no one to take them off for a concert or knees-up of any kind. So – zap – you can send them the cash for an outing or day trip, organised by the Not Forgotten Association, founded in 1920.

Then, of course, there are the legions of children who are born in Africa with club feet or bow legs or spina bifida, and no realistic chance of medical treatment. Click click: you can send them a doctor from Cure International UK with the skill to transform their lives. But who knows, it might just be some random doctor without the training and proper skills. That wouldn´t be fair, especially since those kids can´t file a report to The Medical Negligence Experts like the people here can do without a problem.

You can see the deep happiness these charities bring to those who give – the knowledge that just a little cash can do so much good. But I also noticed something about my interlocutors: that they were giving quite large sums, when they were obviously on pensions and when many of them did not earn enough to pay tax.

One couple told my neighbour, Richard Preston, that they had just celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary and had £750 to spare – and so they decided to give it to the appeal. They certainly didn’t sound like millionaires.

As I talked to people and listened to the conversations around me, I remembered one of the interesting features of charitable giving: that it is people on lower incomes who tend – proportionally – to give the most. A 2010 survey showed that the figures for Britain are roughly the same as in America: the poorest 20 per cent of society give about 3.2 per cent of their income to charity, while the top 20 per cent give 0.9 per cent. The middle 60 per cent give about 2 per cent.

All sorts of explanations have been given for this. Some say that poorer people are more likely to show empathy with those in need of charity, since they have direct experience of suffering and want. Studies have shown that rich people tend to be more generous if they live in areas with a spread of income groups; and that, conversely, the more insulated rich people are from poor people, the less altruism they exhibit.

According to Paul Piff, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, the explanation may be even more unflattering. “The rich are way more likely to prioritise their own self-interest above the interests of other people,” believes Piff. He goes on to say the rich are “more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, ---holes”.

Now this is strong stuff from Mr Piff. I in no way endorse or support this theory of acquired wealth. The money-making instinct is a valid driver of economic activity, and for better or worse we have found no other way of efficiently running our societies.

But, as I said the other day, we need to recognise that there is a problem of growing inequality in this country, and if we are going to have a great new fizzing Eighties boom, and a new breed of Gordon Gekkos, then they need to show – this time round – that they understand they are part of a wider society that is in many cases having it very tough. They need to prove Piff wrong, and there is one obvious way to do it.

So come on, you hedgies and you rainmakers and you masters of the universe – just get on to the Telegraph appeal, by visiting telegraph.co.uk/charity or calling 0151 284 1927. All you need to do is match the proportion of your income that is now being given by the poor. Take it up from 0.9 per cent to 3.2 per cent, and you will be helping the needy in Britain and around the world. You know it makes sense.

Click here for more details of the Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal

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