Why I'm excited about tax justice
The church can support some of the most vulnerable in society by joining the campaign for tax justice. With just 3.5 per cent of the population needed to peacefully bring about change, can we play our role? By Rich Blake-Lobb
There seem to be days, weeks and months dedicated to the awareness of all kinds of things from Pancake Day to Christian Aid Week. Did you know that July is ‘National Picnic Month’? Or that 10 July is ‘National Don’t Step on a Bee Day’ in the UK?
About a week before it began, I learned that 6 to 14 July 2019 was Tax Justice Week. I am passionate about justice – I believe that God’s mandate throughout scripture relates to justice. The ancient laws speak of avoiding partiality for the poor but also not being influenced by the powerful (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 16:19). The prophets say ‘For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him’ (Isaiah 30:18). And of course it was said of Jesus ‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles’ (Matthew 12:18).
While I am enthusiastic about justice, I have not been quite so excited about tax. I appreciate living in a society in which taxes are paid and used to provide education, health care, social care, roads, national parks, the list goes on. I’m less keen on completing a tax return (no one warned me that was one of the aspects of being a minister). And I’m fairly confident that the mention of tax will stop people reading and discovering how, if the church took up the fight against unjust tax, millions of lives would benefit.
Somewhat unexpectedly I found myself at the Fair Tax Conference organised by the Fair Tax Mark and focussed mostly on encouraging businesses to pay their fair share of tax. Also there was the newly appointed National Co-Ordinator of Church Action on Tax Justice, Dr Justin Thacker, and Executive Director of the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR), Janie Oliver. During their workshop I learned and was challenged about the role the church could play supporting some of the most vulnerable in society by joining the campaign for tax justice.
When all tax is taken into consideration the richest households pay 34 per cent of their income in tax; this figure increases to 42 per cent for the poorest household. Between 2000 and 2016 the budget for HMRC reduced by 40 per cent. The most conservative estimates calculate that if the tax loop-holes used by corporations and wealthy household to avoid paying tax were closed, at least an additional £90 billion would be available to HMRC – allowing for prison reform (the current budget for prisons is just £2.5 billion), NHS investment, improved finances for schools and other public services, and that’s without even altering the tax rates.
Justin Thacker is ambitious and would like to see churches across country get on board and similar to the ‘Drop the Debt’ and ‘Jubilee 2000’ campaigns of the 1990s and use our collective voice to bring about change. Rather than witnessing increasing demands for foodbanks and debt advice, campaigning on tax justice could see demand for these diminish. A recent article on the BBC explained how just 3.5 per cent of the population can peacefully bring about change.
I find myself surprised to now be getting exciting talking about tax, and I hope our Baptist family will too. We can begin by looking at the businesses we use and considering whether they pay their fair share of tax (of course we should be paying our fair share too), we can write to our MPs and councillors to encourage local councils to approve the ‘Councils for Fair Tax Declaration’ so they avoid tax-dodging suppliers. If our churches get on board there is a hope that we will see a “fairer, greener tax system in order to tackle the inequality and poverty of our world” (CATJ).
I wasn’t prepared for this year's Tax Justice Sunday on 7 July, but I intend to change that in 2020 - and would love to see our Baptist family getting on board and leading the way.
Image | Rich Blake-Lobb (centre) at Fair Tax Conference with Janie Oliver and Justin Thacker
Rich Blake-Lobb is pastor of Yiewsley Baptist Church. He blogs at thebrokenchurch.net
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