Tax the rich, don't ask for their charity
The soap Eastenders recently took on the issue of debt. Single mother Bianca built up more and more debts. The pressure built with her children demanding more consumer goods. Her paltry wages didn’t cover the bills and pride stopped her asking for help. In the end she took some loans from disreputable lenders. As the debts grew, the demands came in. She turned to first one local character and then another to no avail. Her boss Ian Beal sacked her. Then in total desperation she attempted to steal some money and got caught. On licence from prison, she was then taken away by the police back to prison.
The plot line was well done. It brought home the reality of millions struggling to get by on a daily basis, getting themselves into debt and ever more problems. The plot line reached its climax in the same week as the Church based Trussell Trust announced that it now has over 200 food banks across the country. There has been a huge increase in food banks over the past 18 months going from 55 to 201. The proliferation shows just how desperate it is getting for the mass of people.
The food banks provide the very basic staples of life. One parcel has a supply of food that will last three days. People are referred by care professionals like doctors or social workers in the first instance. The measure is usually to tide people over until benefits or income comes in from other sources. But there can be little doubt that the growth has much to do with the worsening economic conditions.
Former Leeds MP John Battle has explained how the churches in his home town are coming together in four areas of need to create food banks. John points to how the basics of the welfare state are being removed as a safety net for those in difficult times. Against a cacophony of misinformation fed to the media about benefit scroungers, the government has set about effectively dismantling the welfare state. The right to have support is being removed and replaced by charity. Under the guise of the so called Big Society, philanthropists can choose to fill the growing need gap or not. In true 19thcentury style the state is effectively withdrawing from the field.
This leaves organisations like the SVP picking up the pieces. John Battle makes an important point about the role of the Church in this scenario, yes as Christians we must move to help the needy and provide charitable support but there is also a justice issue here. Taxes have been taken on the basis of providing support to the needy; the fact that these funds are no longer being used for that purpose is an unacceptable situation. It is literally daylight robbery as the funds are continually redirected to the rich who have more than they require anyway.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien has highlighted this anomaly, accusing Prime Minister David Cameron of immorality in favouring the rich over everyone else. No doubt the drop in top rate tax from 50p in the pound to 45p was in the Cardinal’s mind at the time.
On the day in which the Cardinal made his apposite comments, the Sunday Times rich list was published showing a 4.7 per cent increase in the wealth of the 1,000 richest people in the UK. The amount that these billionaires took over the past year in total went from £395 billion to £414 billion.
This situation really cannot continue with the super-rich continuing to accumulate ever more wealth, whilst the mass of people have their basic rights and services cut in order to service the deficit. The time has come when the rich must be made to pay more in taxes. They have in the main made their money from exploiting the mass of people, yet will not shoulder the burden when difficult times arrive. Indeed, the approach from government is that of kid gloves, not wanting to upset the rich in case they leave the country.
The present situation amounts to turning things back 150 years to the days before the welfare state was created. Then the great philanthropists, ironically in many cases bankers like the Barclays, Rothschilds and the Guerneys, gave huge amounts of their wealth to help the deserving poor. They though held the judgement to decide what was deserving and what not. There was no right to help as came about with the welfare state. It is no time to return to those times now.
The government must focus on the common good of society not the interests of the relatively small number of rich people. This means higher taxes and retaining public services and benefit support. It should be seen as a matter of shame that the fifth biggest economy in the world is so unjustly run that it manages not to feed increasing numbers of its own people. The Church has a role to play both charitably in support of the poor but also as a voice against the injustice of the present worsening situation.