Thursday, 16 April 2009

Receptacle for the respectable

Letter in today's Guardian re child poverty, from what politicians tend to call 'people of faith and people of no faith'.

We write as faith leaders, humanists and scientists united in our commitment to the eradication of child
poverty in the UK. In our current economic crisis, moral leadership is needed to rebuild an economy in which values come before markets, paying attention to the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable. An end to children growing up in poverty must be a founding principle.

Economists argue that targeting resources to poor families quickly stimulates the economy, as they immediately spend to keep a warm home, put food on the table and shoes on feet (
Our tax system is a mess, 11 April). While we hope that the chancellor will consider the economic argument, our primary concern is the moral imperative we have to help the country's poorest children. It is their need that is greatest in this crisis.

Taking the final steps to halve child poverty by 2010 is far more affordable than the bailouts for failed financial institutions and will deliver so much more in return by safeguarding the health of our children, the quality of their education and the joy of their play. We therefore add our voices to the 110 MPs and thousands of campaigners who have called on the chancellor for action in the budget to "Keep the Promise" on child poverty.

Rev Dr Martyn Atkins General secretary, Methodist Conference
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari Secretary general, Muslim Council of Britain
Rt Rev Tom Butler Bishop of Southwark
Rt Rev David Lunan Moderator, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Polly Toynbee President, British Humanist Association
Professor Richard Wilkinson University of Nottingham
Professor Lewis Wolpert Vice-president, Humanist Association
And 21 others

This letter, which of course follows the letter from 110 MPs which appeared in the Observer a couple of weeks ago, much along the same lines and organised by yours truly, contrasts neatly with a letter in the Guardian earlier this week from Compass and some others.

We write to highlight personal tax avoidance by some of the wealthiest in our country, and to urge the chancellor to take action to close in on personal tax avoidance in the budget. Over 15 times as much is lost through tax avoidance at the top than to benefit fraud at the bottom. If those at the top choose not to pay their fair share, it has grave consequences for everyone. It robs our society of the funds that could end child poverty, or the money needed to increase welfare benefits and help alleviate the conditions which drive the most vulnerable to commit things such as benefit fraud in the first place.

We call on the chancellor to close in on tax avoidance, close in on tax loopholes and deliver greater tax justice. Measures could include: abolishing the domicile rule; abolishing tax havens; taxing investment income equally to income earned through labour; introducing a new wealth tax for all those earning over £250,000; introducing a new tax on bonuses; adopting a general anti-avoidance rule; removing secrecy from all British-controlled tax havens and increasing the number of tax inspectors to allow more thorough investigation.

It is time to close in on tax avoiders, recoup public money and ensure everyone in society pays their fair share - we urge the government to act.

I entirely endorse where Compass is coming from, in spirit if not down to the very last detail, (some of which is more deliverable than others) but I think it's a shame that they don't give equal emphasis to how the money would be spent. Their campaign is for 'Tax Justice', and yes, of course rich people shouldn't be able to avoid paying tax altogether by exploiting tax loopholes or tax havens, although a passing acknowledgement of just how much Gordon Brown has already done to close the former would have been appreciated.

But to isolate the issue thus, with only a passing reference to child poverty and welfare benefits, and running polls on 'taxing the wealthy' runs the risk of creating the impression that this is more about a desire to 'tax the rich till the pips squeak' than it is about ensuring we have sufficient funds in the public purse to meet social objectives.

I'd also question whether it was judicious to mention increasing welfare benefits in such a letter; I know why it was done, to juxtapose benefit fraud and tax avoidance, but again there's a risk that the suggestion is that the rich should be taxed simply to pay other people to do nothing. It would have been better to focus on childcare/ nursery provision, extended schools, tax credits, skills training - all elements in helping people move from welfare into work.

Whenever we make the case for increased taxation, which is what Compass is doing, even if it's just increased taxes for a relatively small proportion of the population, we have to justify not just why it would be 'equitable' to take the money, but also why we need it and how we think it should be spent. Yes, Compass are right to say about tax avoidance that 'it's not fair', but child poverty isn't fair either, and I wish the left of the Labour Party would throw their weight behind the End Child Poverty campaign in the same way that so many others across the political spectrum have done.

Guidance note on commenting for trolls:*
This post is about how the left makes the argument for tax and spend in today's political/ economic climate. It should be read in the context of many years debate on the subject, from the Denis Healey quote mentioned above to the 'no return to tax and spend' of the New Labour years. I am entirely confident that the post will result in a deluge of libertarians ranting on about how 'it's our money' and going off on one about how the state shouldn't be taxing anyone or spending money on anything or passing any laws or doing anything at all except equpping our troops with sufficient ammunition to blast illegal immigrants into outer space, or whatever. Please don't. Unless I get the impression your responses are (a) thoughtful (b) measured and (c) at least tenuously connected with the actual issue under discussion, I will just be pressing delete. My blog = my rules!

*The first of what may become a regular feature.


DaveA said...

Kerry you are in a feisty mood and I am a little disappointed that some things can't be said. However if Polly Toynbee wants, my default button is that I'm against. When will the centre-left realise that capitalism delivers wealth and full employment, not government planning, tax and spend.

At the risk of repeating myself as someone who has lived in inner London now for over 24 years, Hackney, Stratford and now Leytonstone, imho over 50% of poverty is self induced. Of course there are people who are physically, mentally disabled or do not have the wherewithall about them to look after themselves. I am happy to pay my taxes and support them.

However there are vast swathes of underclass people who are ill mannered, indisciplined, choose not to be educated, are happy to be a parasite on the nation's wealth and make no contribution to society other than being single parent families, petty criminals and nihilists.

I interact with these people weekly if not daily and challenging their behaviour, like if they spit on the street meets with abuse and physical threats.

Assuming there are 6 bllion people in the world, how many takers would we have if on offer was a council flat and UK benefits? My guess 4-5 billion.

The "poor" have been let down by nanny socialism which has taken away their motivation and let them suck from the Labour Party teat.

Kerry said...

I've allowed this through because it illustrates a certain viewpoint ('though not one to which I subscribe). Have you never heard of welfare to work, the New Deal, Pathways to Work, etc, etc, all the flak we've had over the past 12 years and that James Purnell is still getting for efforts to make sure people don't spend their lives on benefits? If a child is growing up in poverty is that 'self-induced'?

But back to the main debate.

Kerry said...

That was a bit soft of me, wasn't it, letting that through?

DaveA said...

Kerry, it can't be my rapier wit, withering charm, have you been out for a quick lunchtime pint?

To be fair and I have said this before, I sincerely believe Labour's heart in the right place. I commend you for the carrot approach and despite being tied up in red tape the Family Tax Credits too.

I wish you would use a few more sticks on some of the minority.

SteveShark said...


Perhaps on the terms you state, yes.

But ignore such views at your parliamentary peril.

The substance of DaveA's views has never been fully addressed by the Labour Party and it festers away, along with the whole immigration issue, although the neglect of that particular debate is equally the Tory party's fault.

Essentially, Dave is asking what a lot of people are asking - myself included, after some 40 years of voting Labour - why should taxpayers subsidise people who make absolutely no effort to provide for themselves but are perfectly capable of doing so?

Ignoring us will lose you next the election.

Kerry said...

It's been discussed at considerable length, on here and elsewhere. Have a look at what James Purnell has been saying lately. Have a look at what he said in Dewsbury on Tuesday, for example, about alcoholics being required to seek treatment or have their benefits docked.

SteveShark said...

'It's been discussed at considerable length, on here and elsewhere'

Has it really been discussed and public opinion sought?
No, reliance on benefit has been implemented gradually over the years without consulting the people who are paying for benefits.
I don't imagine that for one moment that it's been done on purpose, just that a culture of reliance has grown up out of something designed to be a safety net rather than a means of avoiding having to work.
The alcoholics idea is way too little, far too late.