As we continue in these days of war in Europe, we are becoming more and more aware of the complex and secretive ways that money linked to the Russian state has become interwoven with the UK economy, links which the Government and businesses are now hastily trying to unravel.
Indeed, most of us will have a personal, financial connection to the horrific and unjust invasion of Ukraine that we have all watched unfold over the last couple of weeks. Our banks and pension funds may well be invested in Russian companies, including in the oil and gas sector, which contribute the wealth that the Russian state needs for its military incursions. HSBC, for example, has stakes in five of the biggest Russian oil and gas companies.
The Church of England Pensions Board has already acted to divest from Russian companies. Nest, one of the biggest pension funds in the UK, has confirmed they will divest all their holdings in Russian government bonds and businesses as soon as possible. As the war goes on, there will be more and more calls for such action.
Beyond our investments, there are more secretive ways in which Kremlin-linked money is connected to the UK economy. London in particular has long been a playground for the world’s wealthiest, including many kleptocrats, whose money and business interests have been well served here. Many of Putin’s closest allies hold substantial chunks of wealth in the capital, including via off-shore companies and property. This is not new. It was back when he was London Mayor that Boris Johnson boasted, “London is to the billionaire as the jungles of Sumatra are to the orangutan. It is their natural habitat. We’re proud of that.”
But what has it meant? A web of financial secrecy services in the UK that have provided a hiding place for ill-gotten gains, enabling corruption and bad governance, funding regimes like Putin’s, and losing billions of pounds to the legitimate economy and tax receipts. Just one example: £1.5 billion worth of UK property is owned by Russians accused of corruption or linked to the Kremlin.
At ECCR we encourage Christians to think differently about money – our own money, the money invested in our economy and the money in the tax system. We believe we are called to live out our faith in every aspect of our lives, affecting how we bank, save, and spend money. This should make us demand changes in the way our money is invested (for example through our pensions), in the corporate economy, and how our taxes are collected and used. So that money shapes the kind of world we want to live in – a world of justice and peace, a world where creation is cared for and the vulnerable protected.
Indeed, as Christians it is odd that we don’t talk more about money. After all, Jesus talked about money and wealth more than many other subjects! So how we think about and use money is a good topic for us to reflect on this Lent.
Our Money Makes Change programme helps us look at our own bank accounts, savings and pension funds and ask the questions – where is this money invested? What kinds of activity is it supporting or enabling? Am I happy with that? Does that reflect my attempts to follow Christ? If not, we can take action to challenge our banks and pension providers or move our money so that it serves the values we seek to live out.
Beyond our individual choices, we must also reflect on how money is used in the economy and the tax system, and whether it is shaping the kind of society we want to see. Our Church Action for Tax Justice programme has been working with others to pressure the Government to bring in new legislation to tackle corruption, tax avoidance and money laundering, and we’re really pleased that an Economic Crime Bill has now been introduced. This bill, which we hope is the first step in such legal measures, would help to stop the very wealthy from hiding their ownership of property or money, so that authorities can track where such wealth comes from, spot ‘dirty money’ and make sure any taxes owed are paid. And our new Good Measure campaign is calling for a wealth tax on the richest 1%, to tackle inequality and help build a fairer future.
Christians should be able to show what difference our faith makes to how money can be used to shape a better world. So this Lent, let’s consider what it might look like to follow Jesus with our finances – following him with all of our lives, in all our choices and actions each day.
- Check out our Money Makes Change resources to find out how you can take action with your bank account, pension and savings
- Sign our letter to the Chancellor calling on the wealthiest to pay a #GoodMeasure of tax to tackle inequality
- Join the movement! Sign up to ECCR’s newsletter
We want to see a world where money is used to shape a fairer, greener future. With your support we can continue to resource and equip Christians across the UK to better connect their faith and finances.