This article was written by JustMoney Movement Director Sarah Edwards and published in the January 2023 edition of the Columban Vocation for Justice Newsletter
As we begin to emerge from this long, difficult winter, churches around the UK are valiantly striving to meet the immediate needs of their communities – providing food, shelter, warmth and often simply a comforting word – showing love of neighbour to those on the sharp edge of the cost of living crisis.
But what about Churches’ prophetic duty? How can we build a movement speaking out for justice and for measures to help tackle the root causes of this crisis?
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously said: “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
We live in times of extreme inequality. An Oxfam report in 2022, ‘Inequality kills’, found that the wealth of the world’s ten richest men doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the UK, according to the most recent Global Wealth Report by Credit Suisse, inequality has also risen so that the top 1% of households now have 230 times the wealth of the bottom 10%.
This inequality has consequences. If more of that wealth were shared, we wouldn’t be facing a situation where, according to The Fairness Index, 21% of people in the UK live in poverty and 34% are unable to maintain a decent living standard. Moreover, if those with the broadest shoulders were to contribute a fairer share, there would be more revenue available for investment in the NHS and schools, to tackle the climate emergency, and Churches wouldn’t have to be papering over the increasingly gaping holes in our social safety nets.
At the JustMoney Movement we believe that Christians should be joining together in speaking out against such excessive inequality.
Scripture is full of principles and practices to deal with economic injustice. For example, in the concepts of Sabbath and Jubilee, God ordains patterns of living together which include periods of rest and re-set every 7 and 50 years (Leviticus 25) where social, economic and environmental inequities can be redressed, including the release of slaves, cancelling of debts and restoration of land.
In the gospels, Jesus begins his ministry declaring that he had come to “bring good news to the poor”. He tells a rich man to sell his property and give to the poor, states that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” and, on becoming one of his followers, Zacchaeus the tax collector gives away half of his wealth. It has been argued that Jesus’ teaching has a particular focus on the need to give away wealth (possessions) as opposed to income, an approach that does more to redress inequality.
What would it look like to focus on redressing these economic imbalances today? How can we love our neighbour by calling for structural changes to the systems that create and sustain wealth in our world?
Our ‘Church Action for Tax Justice’ campaign has been calling for changes in the tax system to rebalance it towards those who can afford to contribute more. At the moment earned income is taxed much more heavily than taxes on unearned income like capital gains and dividends. The wealthiest in society use income from investments, rents and inheritances to live on, meaning they pay proportionately much less tax than those on low or middle incomes.
Globally, hundreds of billions of dollars that could be spent on public services in poorer nations is siphoned off into tax havens and other forms of tax dodging by multinational corporations.
Over the past year we’ve seen some progress – we helped lobby for (admittedly limited) windfall taxes that the Government introduced on fossil fuel companies who have made such obscene profits from energy prices, and saw the formation of a new parliamentary group to investigate wealth taxes. Momentum has grown among a wide movement of allies calling for a fairer tax system to address the sky-high inequality we face.
Internationally too there have been some steps forward, with a move in rulemaking on global tax to the UN (which includes all nations) from the OECD (a group of wealthier countries) late in 2022. This should be mean more inclusive and democratic global tax rules, and we look forward to seeing how this works out later this year.
The JustMoney Movement also provides a range of resources and actions to enable individuals and congregations to connect our own finances to efforts to shape a fairer world. Often in churches we only think about our money in terms of what we give away – but what about the rest? Is your bank account or pension fund supporting fossil fuels or the arms trade? Thinking specifically about the cost of living crisis, are you doing your shopping from companies that pay fair and responsible levels of tax and pay their workers a decent wage? If you have investments, you can choose for them to have an impact on communities for the better, aligning with your faith and your values.
Money shapes the world around us, for better or worse. Our ‘Money Makes Change’ hub on our website has information to help you think this through and make choices to support the creation of a fairer, more inclusive society.
The cost of living crisis is the latest brutal manifestation of a system that prioritises profit and growth over the wellbeing of all. As Christians we must challenge this – we need a broader movement willing to speak out for changes in policy and make different financial choices ourselves that align with our faith principles of loving our neighbour, seeking the common good and recognising the dignity of all.