I am a winner. Not in terms of the important stuff like being handsome or sporty or dressing well, but in terms of the 2012 Budget. A quick spin on the BBC News Budget Calculator revealed that my wife and I will be about £300 better off thanks to Chancellor Osborne. I could be overjoyed. I am not. And the reason is simple: I'm a Christian. Not a particularly good or holy Christian - I've never penned a worship song, been persecuted harshly for my faith or spoken at Spring Harvest - but I know that just because something is good for me, that doesn't make it right. I'm Christian enough to know that the fact that I'm okay is not the most important factor in the world. That there are people whose welfare I should consider more important than my own: people worse off than me.
Some have called this the 'Robin Hood Budget'. I wish they were right. But this budget does the opposite of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Calling it a 'granny-tax' or a 'raid on the elderly' may be unnecessarily sensational, but the fact is that, thanks to this budget, pensions will no longer go up with inflation. That means that while cat food and heating bills get more expensive, elderly people will have less money to pay for them.
And that would be fine, were it not for the rest of the budget, the rest of this government's choices about how to deal with our economic problems. Elderly people could be expected to endure having a little less, just like the poor in this country could be expected to endure less access to the public services they need, if tax breaks weren't being given to the rich. But they are. The wealthiest people in the country are having their tax bill reduced while we are all being told that there is sadly not enough money to help the poorest. That's what the '50p rate reduction' everyone is talking about means.
The argument that has been made by some people is that this isn't a big deal. I disagree. I may not be an economist (the only 'invisible hand' I believe in is the Lord's), but I know unfairness when I see it. Those in favour of cutting this tax on the richest people in Britain claim that it will only cost the government £100million in lost revenue. "Only" £100million. At a time when we're all being told to punch new holes in our collective belts so that we can keep tightening them ever more, I find that offensive. And many economists find it massively uncertain at best and inaccurate at worst.
I agree with George Osborne that tax-avoidance is "morally repugnant" in a society where the government uses taxes to make sure we have roads, police, emergency services and support for those who are weakest and poorest in society. I don't understand how he can fail to see that he is aiding that moral repugnance by cutting taxes for the richest while cutting help for the poor. He says he will clamp down on tax-avoidance. Good! But, as one commentator pointed out, forcing people to pay taxes they should have been paying all along is not a tax increase. It's a basic standard of morality. Preventing people stealing from you is not the same as them giving you presents. When benefit-cheats take advantage of the system, they are denounced. When tax cheats do the same, they are rewarded with a tax-break.
And to say that the so-called 'mansion tax' equals things out is frankly naïve. How often do you sell your house? Because that is when our nation's wealthiest property owners will have to pay an increased tax. Not a tax on what they own. Just a tax on what they buy. I'm all for it, but it is not nearly enough.
Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor and this Budget is anything but that. It is a worldly Budget, motivated by worldly values. That may be par for the course, but that doesn't make it right. We Christians are used to rejecting the false gods and broken values of so much of the world, but when it comes to the economic system that requires sacrifices in the form of people to appease its profit-gods, we get squeamish. We become afraid. It's time to reject the values of the worldly religion of popular economic belief and start pushing for Kingdom values like jubilee, mercy and care for the needy. It's time to stand up and affirm that we believe human beings, not companies, are made in the image of God and that the greatest motivation in life should be love, not profit.
If we do, maybe governments will notice. Perhaps something of the Kingdom will creep into earthly Budgets. Perhaps there could be more winners.
This piece also appeared in The Narnian Socialist Review and a few other places.
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