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Bishops call for tax-rise for the richest to save cost-of-living crisis

13 March 2023

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BISHOPS and other faith leaders have urged the Prime Minister to raise taxes on the highest incomes to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

Relying on charity cannot fix the scale of the crisis, they write in an open letter to Rishi Sunak, published on Monday. Signed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, 16 bishops, and more than 20 other faith leaders, it calls for government intervention on energy and incomes, and a “moral re-evaluation” of the tax system.

A coalition of more than 50 civil-society groups called “Stop the Squeeze” — which includes Christians Against Poverty, Save the Children, and Oxfam — co-ordinated the open letter as part of an ongoing call for the Government to tackle the cost-of-living crisis by guaranteeing affordable energy, boosting incomes, and raising taxes on wealth.

The letter expresses deep concern about the suffering of millions of people across the country owing to spiralling costs.

It says: “The cost of living crisis isn’t seasonal — it is structural. And the upcoming Spring Budget is an opportunity to find solutions. We are writing to you to ask you to show clear leadership this year, with a more compassionate response to this crisis that can truly restore hope to our communities.”

The letter points to research published by the New Economics Foundation which suggests that 43 per cent of families will not be able to afford a decent standard of living by 2024. “That means struggling to put food on the table, buy new clothes or heat their homes,” the letter says. “We can’t afford to wait until 2024 to put this right. Families are suffering right now, with 75 per cent of the poorest families going without essentials. That figure rises to 90 per cent for those on Universal Credit.”

The letter, which arrived as some MPs renewed calls for tax cuts in the Budget this week, states that politicians need to “face up to” choices on tax, and urges the Government to raise taxes for those who can afford to pay.

“Although we come from different faiths, we share a common belief that we must look after those most in need and do what we can to provide hope in dark times,” it says. “Faith communities across the country are putting these values into practice, providing food, warmth, and companionship for those who need it most.

“But charity, and the kindness of strangers, cannot fix the scale of the crisis we are seeing unfolding in our country. These are structural economic issues which have been building up for many years, and only clear vision and sustained political will can provide a solution.”

The letter states that tax is a moral as well as a technical matter, and a means of “creating a good society, with shared services and a social safety net. Those of us who are fortunate enough to earn the most and own the most should pay our proper share so that everyone can live well, and not live in fear of poverty.

“With a record number of billionaires, the UK has never been more comfortable for the extremely wealthy, while living standards for most people are sharply declining. The current system disproportionately taxes income from work, whilst people who are already wealthy from investments, rent and inheritances are taxed relatively lightly.”

The UK tax system is in need of both moral and economic re-evaluation, the faith leaders conclude. “These ideas are popular and credible, with support from a wide range of civil society organisations, economists, and faith groups.

“We would ask you to look at these ideas as you put together proposals for this year and beyond, and consider how you can act this year to show that real change is possible and give hope to millions that this country is one in which nobody is left behind.”

Last month, Lord Williams joined campaigners in calling for a one-off tax on the wealthiest one per cent of tax-payers to help to close the wealth gap.

The letter also calls for reforms to the energy market and a rapid rollout of cheap renewable energy, to guarantee clean, affordable energy for all, and for increases to the minimum wage and social-security payments to create a Living Income.

The General Secretary of Churches Together in England, the Revd Mike Royal, said: “Our communities are doing all they can to support those struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, but charity alone can’t fix structural economic problems like low incomes and a broken energy system. It’s time for reforms of the tax system so that those with the broadest shoulders pay their fair share.”

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