A statement from Church Action for Tax Justice in light of the Coronavirus pandemic (June 2020)
The British public believe in fairness. Everyone has the right to benefit from society, and everyone has a responsibility to contribute to it. We see this sense of fairness enshrined in our public services. This has been especially the case in respect of our NHS where the same healthcare is available to all free at the point of delivery.
Yet there are some aspects of our community life that seem especially unfair, and one of these is our tax system. The simple fact is this: our tax system disproportionately favours the wealthy and harms the poorest in our society. Consider the following:
What does this mean in practice?
It means that the average cleaner in the UK is paying more in tax as a proportion of income than the average CEO whose office is being cleaned. It means the average security guard pays a higher rate of tax than the average executive whose building they are keeping safe. This is fundamentally unfair.
The British public think so too.
In our survey of over 1,000 working age adults 80% thought that tax avoidance was morally wrong. This belief was true right across the political spectrum from Conservative to Labour, from Remain to Leave. It was true in every age group and across genders. It is very unusual for the British public to be so united on a single moral issue. Yet this is what we found. And when asked why they thought it was wrong, it was the issue of ‘fairness’ that was top of their list with 75% stating that we all need to pay our fair share.
So why does fairness matter? Because contributing a fair share is how we create a fairer world.
A sense of equality and justice is at the heart of who we understand ourselves to be. We believe that everyone is equal, that no-one is above the law, that if there is a rule – such as pay your taxes – then everyone must follow it. From a Christian point of view, this idea reflects the equality that is ours by virtue of being created in the image of God. In the ancient world, the concept of the divine image was reserved for the supreme ruler, but in the pages of Genesis the divine image is conferred on everyone. Under God, we are all of equal worth and dignity.
This is why our scriptures repeatedly find ways to encourage the sharing of resources for the benefit of all. We see this in the Jubilee principles when every 50 years all debts were to be cancelled; we see it in the Early Church (Acts 2) when people sold land and property and distributed proceeds according to need; and we see it in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when he tells them 'the goal is equality'.
At the same time, the Scriptures are also frequently full of condemnation for those who have made a god out of greed, selfishly hoard their wealth, exploit their workers and fail to pay what they owe either to the ruling authorities or their workers. The World Council of Churches, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and others have conceived the idea of a ‘Zacchaeus Tax’, from the story of the tax collector who gave back four times over what he had cheated on the taxes he levied.
In response, then, Church Action for Tax Justice is calling for the following measures to be implemented to ensure that everyone pays their fair share, and so that we see a fairer world, one which is more equal and just, especially in this time of crisis.
These objectives are based on those developed by a coalition of tax justice organisations. However, this formulation belongs to CATJ alone. For the more widely agreed Statement see the website of Tax Justice UK in due course
 http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Documents/WealthTaxData420.pdf References for other points available on request
Dr Justin Thacker is the National Coordinator for Church Action for Tax Justice