From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, - Your two recent leader comments (21 and 28
September), about current attitudes to people in poverty and
the unruly behaviour in the banks, point to questions about
political leadership over the past 30 years.
Cabinets have put their faith in an extreme model of the free
market. It has been as if Moses goes back up Mount Sinai,
deregulates the Ten Commandments, and then puzzles about why there
is so much theft. The growing imbalance between the comfortable and
the poorest in Britain began in the 1960s, when the Conservatives
set about creating a property-owning democracy.
They gave massive tax breaks to people buying their own home -
far more than has ever been paid out in housing benefit by the
taxpayer to the poorest citizens on housing benefit who rent their
The ethics-light free market took off in the 1980s, when the
Conservatives deregulated lending and allowed the free movement of
capital in and out of the UK. A housing market in short supply was
flooded with money, forcing up the price of a home and rents.
Tax Justice estimates that $21 trillion tax-free dollars are
parked in overseas accounts. The 1979 Labour government let it rip
until the financial sector, free of all governmental ethical
restraint, brought the nation to its knees in 2008.
Our poorest fellow-citizens are now trapped between, on the one
hand, the political parties' need for power and, on the other, the
taxpaying electorate's owning homes with substantial positive
equity, who provide the 40 per cent of the vote needed for a
Politicians judge that they are unlikely to vote for parties who
create two crucial policies needed to reduce poverty: first,
minimum-income standards; and, second, a reduction in the value of
land to create a housing policy that provides affordable homes of
all tenures rather than lets a scarce natural resource be exploited
The Christian priority for the poorest citizens is echoed in the
works of modern economists and philosophers. A market governed by
John Stuart Mill, who considered Bentham's utilitarian criteria for
political action of a choice between creating pleasure or pain too
narrow, would be regulated with concern for right and wrong,
aesthetics, sympathy, and love.
Adam Smith understood "necessaries to be not only the
commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of
life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent
for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be
Rowntree promoted a human-needs standard at a level below which
the community should not allow people to fall. J. K. Galbraith, in
his 1992 The Culture of Contentment, forecast the developing
tendency of political parties to appeal for the votes of the 40
per cent of the population who vote and pay income tax, and own
their homes, by not increasing their taxes, and so leaving the
minority of the poorest citizens out in the cold.
Too many of today's politicians preach that the poverty is the
result of individual moral failure, the relief of which should be
dominated by penal methods; but moral failures in the UK are to be
found at the top, and continue unabated and unpunished.
Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF