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Wages of sin

27 April 2018

THERE are strong indications from the Treasury that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is planning to accede to requests from C of E bishops and others to reduce the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting machines from £100 to £2. The decision has not been formalised, but hints have been dropped to a national newspaper (in this instance The Times), which by now has become the standard way in which the Government prepares people for a controversial policy change or, alternatively, tests the waters of public opinion before committing itself. If, by any chance, this is the latter, Mr Hammond can be sure that every concerned church person will back the change. The Gambling Commission inquiry in March was guarded about the evidence for reducing the maximum stake, but it did criticise the concentration of gambling machines in areas where incomes are low and dreams of salvation through a big win are correspond­ingly high. Betting companies are not benefactors with big hearts, for all their generosity with free online plays to hook punters in.

Mr Hammond has hesitated because of uncertainty over how he might replace the lost tax income, but even members of his own party have questioned this line of thinking, given the social cost of machines on which approximately 250,000 people a year lose more than £1000 — a feat that can be accomplished in less than four minutes with (bad) luck. To quote one Conservative MP: “The damage to society is not worth the tax revenue.” There is a long tradition in the UK and elsewhere of “taxing sin”, i.e. raising revenue from alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling. But to take a cut from a system that exploits addiction and causes harm is to be implicated in the causes of that harm — particularly foolish when, ultimately, the state has to bear the cost of supporting families made destitute by problem gambling. Mr Hammond might wish to pay attention to Proverbs 28.19: “He that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough.”

21 for 21

ALL religious leadership involves an element of peacemaking and reconciliation. The priority for the faithful is their relationship with God, but this is generally mediated through other people. A good leader accepts the need for people to follow their own consciences, but has an eye to the well-being of the community, and an appreciation of mutual benefit through prayer, study, and worship. All this is hard enough within one iteration of faith. The difficulties multiply as people of other faiths are drawn in. It is in recognition of this that the Church Times, Jewish News, British Muslim TV, and Coexist House have combined forces to seek out interfaith leaders from among the younger generation: 21 leaders for the 21st century. The present travails of the Labour Party show the need for interfaith engagement and sympathy — and also the need for clear and enlightened leadership. We encourage our readers to nominate young people whom they know for an award.

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