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General Election: Ten bishops sign open letter calling for fairer taxes for all

06 June 2024

Christian leaders call on political parties to commit to tackling poverty and inequality


Sir Keir Starmer and the Prime Minister during the TV debate on 4 June

Sir Keir Starmer and the Prime Minister during the TV debate on 4 June

TAX should be considered a blessing and not a burden, but the system as it stands is unfair, leaders and representatives of churches and Christian organisations from around the UK have told Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat leaders.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams is among ten bishops who signed an open letter, “Faith in Fairer Taxes”, on Tuesday, which calls on them to help shift the narrative on tax and work towards reforming the system to give everyone a fair share.

“As Christians, we are called to ‘seek the welfare of the city’, the society where God has put us,” the letter says. “We therefore see your role as elected leaders as seeking the welfare of the nation where you have been elected.”

Initiated by the JustMoney Movement, it points out that the richest ten per cent of people pay 34 per cent of their income in taxes, but the poorest ten per cent pay 42 per cent of theirs. Council tax is regressive, and the wealthiest can avoid payment by using “tax havens”, the letter says, passing on assets through family trusts or using built-in exemptions.

“We believe a fair tax system is a vital part of seeking the welfare of modern society — so that everyone has their ‘daily bread’; where we love our neighbours and care for the created world,” they say. They make reference to a JustMoney poll of 1000 people, which found that health and social care, education, and environmental protection were the top three things the respondents were thankful their taxes paid for.

Signatories include the Moderator of the Free Churches Group, the Revd Helen Cameron; the director of Christian Climate Action, Holly-Anna Petersen; and the General Secretary of Churches Together in England, Bishop Mike Royal.

Fairer taxes would “get us closer to the kind of just, compassionate society we see in the biblical Jubilee and in Jesus’s Kingdom values”, the director of JustMoney, Sarah Edwards, said.

Lord Williams suggested: “It’s time to challenge the narrative about taxation as some sort of irrational imposition by distant and greedy government, and connect again with our basic responsibility for one another in society.

“But this can’t happen unless people trust the system to be both fair and effective. What we are seeking is a grown-up discussion of all this — not uncritical, but not unrealistic or resentful, grounded in the biblical vision of our call to serve and protect one another as the foundation of a durable and dependable social order.”

Child poverty is a critical election issue, and time is running out to take action, a coalition of more than 120 organisations warned all political parties yesterday.

They want them to make a commitment to removing the two-child limit to benefit payments, and the benefit cap. Action is even more urgent, they say, in the light of a study from Loughborough University showing that in two-thirds (66.2 per cent) of new constituencies, at least one quarter of the children live in poverty.

The data shows a strong correlation between constituencies with a high child poverty rate and the prevalence of the two-child limit. Joseph Howes, who chairs the End Child Poverty Coalition, said: “The data is undeniable. Too many children are in this cycle of deprivation that affects their health, education, and future prospects.

“It is time to dismantle these barriers. The elections will provide a critical platform for committing to systemic changes to uplift families and give every child the opportunity to thrive.”

The Children’s Societ’s CEO, Mark Russell, described the limit and the benefit cap as having had a “catastrophic” effect. And the director of policy, rights, and advocacy at the Child Poverty Action Group, Sara Ogilvie, said: “Children’s well-being is the responsibility of every politician, and should be a policy priority of the next few weeks and beyond. . . No trajectory looks good while more than four million children are in poverty.”

The north-east, at 88 per cent, is shown to have the highest proportion of constituencies where one quarter of the children are in poverty; Middlesbrough and Thornaby East are the most affected. High rates are also reported in London and the north-west.

Senior church leaders in the West Midlands have described the forthcoming election as a seminal moment for their region. In a statement also issued on Tuesday, and posted by the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, they encourage each parliamentary candidate to make a commitment to working to erase systemic poverty.

“We note with great concern that Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Sandwell, and Walsall had the highest percentages of households living in food poverty in the UK in 2022,” the statement reads.

“Behind these statistics lie stories of poverty affecting thousands of individuals, families and children, limiting their life chances and negatively affecting their life- expectancy. We are thankful for the work of Church Action on Poverty, the Joint Public Issues Team, the JustMoney movement and all faith-based organizations which seek to alleviate the effects of poverty and to lift people out of debt.

“We pray for a society that reflects the biblical values of justice and compassion, in which everyone can live life to the full. As leaders of Christian churches in the West Midlands, we encourage each parliamentary candidate to commit to building an immigration system that operates with compassion, justice, transparency and speed in its decision-making. We know that many asylum seekers are to be found in large centres of population around the West Midlands.”

A statement from the Salvation Army on Tuesday said that, in partnership with Citizens UK, they would give a voice to the people queuing at its foodbanks, sleeping at its homeless shelters, or struggling to find work.

As an ambassador for the Voter Registration Champion Scheme, it says that it has armed its front-line officers and staff with information and advice to encourage the people they serve — often the most marginalised people in the community — to register to vote.

The territorial co-ordinator for justice and reconciliation at the Salvation Army, Nick Coke, said: “Poverty sidelines and silences people, which is why we want as many people as possible to be able to cast their vote and have their say. Many people don’t realise that you can register to vote even if you don’t have a fixed address; so we will be helping people get registered.

“The Salvation Army is politically neutral, but as well as encouraging the people we support to vote, many of our officers will be speaking to their local prospective candidates.

“Salvation Army officers are embedded in communities across the UK and see how need changes depending on the location. From baby banks in Hastings to employment support in Edinburgh, we want parliamentary candidates to understand not just the levels of need but also what works locally to help people transform their lives.”

The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church has issued a comprehensive briefing on key issues identified as being at stake. They include poverty; asylum and refugees; environment and climate change; the economy; peace and conflict; and politics.

Along with a set of resources on each, they suggest questions that might be raised with candidates. On the issue of poverty, for example: “Do you agree with the principle of the Essentials Guarantee — that benefits should be set at a level high enough that families avoid destitution?” “Foodbank use has increased massively over the past decade — why do you think that is?” “What is your plan to tackle poverty in the UK over the long term?”

The Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales is focusing on criminal justice, domestic poverty, family life and taxation, education, the environment, international relations, human rights and peace-building, life issues, and migration.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, is asking RC voters to be active in engaging with politicians on these issues. “You want to know what your candidate will think and say on your behalf when that candidate gets into Parliament,” he told them.

“I would like to put forward a theme for us all to think about. How do we seek to construct a society in which families can flourish? That’s the bedrock.”

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) UK is calling for all candidates to support repealing anti-refugee laws, ending immigration detention, and lifting the ban on work for asylum-seekers.

The JRS’s director, Sarah Teather, said: “Over a number of years, we’ve seen a shocking rise in hostility, scapegoating, and cruel policies targeting refugees and asylum-seekers, but so many of us want a different approach: one that welcomes women, men, and children who come here in search of safety, treats them with dignity, and celebrates the gifts they bring.”

The JRS is calling for a system that “considers asylum claims fairly, ensures people have the legal support they need to navigate the process, and treats everyone in search of sanctuary as human beings”.

Anti-refugee laws and policies, it says, include the “illegal Migration Act, which bans most refugees from claiming asylum; housing people in appalling settings like barges and disused military barracks; and plans to forcibly transfer people to Rwanda as well as other plans to outsource asylum”.

Read more on the General Election in Leader comment and Paul Vallely

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