This article was written by JustMoney Movement Director Sarah Edwards and published by Premier Christianity on the 31st January 2022.
Christians are called to act justly, look after the vulnerable and seek the good of the community. One of the key ways this is achieved in a modern society is through taxation, says Sarah Edwards. Nadhim Zahawi’s “careless” failure to pay what he owes is yet another example of the double standards employed by those in power.
Nadhim Zahawi’s sacking as chairman of the Conservative Party for a “serious breach of the ministerial code” this weekend, reminds us of the expectations we place upon our leaders to behave in a certain way. As Christians, we draw on a long tradition of ethical guidance to shape the conduct of those who lead us.
Scripture is full of exhortations upon those who take up leadership in public life – from Jethro’s advice to Moses to appoint “competent leaders” who are “trustworthy and honest” (Exodus 18:21) to the adage in Proverbs 29: “If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will be established forever.” Right values and integrity matter to God.
Of course we also have the example of Jesus, the ultimate servant leader, who gave up everything for his followers and who calls us to serve rather than to follow a more typical pattern of leadership.
In the case of Zahawi, we know that an inquiry by the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser found that the MP had failed to disclose the HMRC investigation into his financial affairs, including while he was in charge of the nation’s taxes in his brief stint as Chancellor last year. This was deemed a breach of the ministerial code; the rulebook that sets out how public servants should behave.
Christian teaching is relevant to the specifics of this case as well as the generalities. Zahawi is understood to have paid a £1 million penalty to the HMRC tax authority as part of a larger settlement of £5 million, after tax errors he insists were “careless” rather than deliberate. While it is his failure to be transparent about the investigation over more than a year that has proved his undoing, his tax affairs highlight another moral issue.
At the JustMoney Movement we believe that tax should not be seen as a burden; it’s a way of showing love for our neighbour, care for creation and creating the type of society we find in the teachings of Jesus and the prophets. We are called to act justly, to look after the vulnerable and to seek the good of the community. In a modern society one of the key ways this is achieved is through taxation.
This is especially pertinent at the moment, when the Covid-19 pandemic and the current cost of living crisis have exposed and deepened so many glaring inequalities in our society. Indeed, it’s horrifying to note that both extreme poverty and wealth have increased for the first time in 25 years, according to a recent Oxfam report.
We are therefore concerned that HMRC seems to be woefully under-resourced to go about its task of collecting taxes. Just a couple of weeks ago, a parliamentary report found that HMRC is not deploying anything like enough resources to recover unpaid taxes, meaning some £42 billion had not been paid to the Treasury’s coffers as of last June – a huge sum of money that could go a long way towards funding the NHS and schools and tackling the cost of living crisis.
Moreover, the principle that those who are most able to do so, should be making the greatest contribution, is a sound one. In 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, Paul shares a vision of a community where everyone has enough: he addresses the wealthy Corinthians, urging them to give generously so that “your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.” The goal, he reminds them, is equality – so that no one has too much or too little. So it’s particularly galling to see wealthy political leaders apparently fail to pay the taxes they owe.
Aside from those failing to pay taxes through deceit or simply carelessness, our current tax system is unfairly stacked against ordinary working people, with the most wealthy often able to pay proportionately less tax, even legitimately. That’s why our Church Action for Tax Justice campaign is calling for changes in this system, including the introduction of a wealth tax.
We’ve been delighted to see many voices join us for this campaign, including church leaders in a letter to the current Chancellor last year, and over 200 “patriotic millionaires” who wrote recently to ask to be taxed more – agreeing that their wealth puts them in the privileged position of being able to contribute more to the common good, not less.
There are just a few weeks left to sign our own public letter to the Chancellor, which we will be handing in ahead of the Budget in March, asking for a one-off wealth tax and a review of the tax system to make it fairer.
Above all, we desperately need leaders who serve the common good, with honesty and fairness, so let’s also remember, as Paul urges elsewhere, to pray for all those in authority, that they would have the courage to do what is right, and wisdom to know what that is.