by Anthony Boateng
Tax Justice is all about ways of making the global economy fairer for the poorest. Church Action for Tax Justice is an ecumenical, campaigning organisation which believes that Christians as individuals and churches should challenge the injustices within the global tax system.
What does the Bible have to say about tax?
In the Gospels the taxation system was clearly oppressive: the common people were taxed by the Romans, King Herod and the Temple. Tax-collectors were seen as traitors. But a fair tax system is essential for sharing – across nations and generations – the wealth of creation for which God has made us stewards (See Mark 10:25). Therefore tax should not be seen as a burden to be lifted, but rather as a way of showing love for our neighbour and creating the type of just society which we find in the teachings of Jesus and the prophets.
Why we need to talk about tax now
In the context of increasing global inequality (concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands) and unprecedented environmental challenges, tax is a powerful tool for building more just and sustainable societies. The more we speak about Tax Justice and put it in people’s minds we’re able to tell people why our precious NHS is underfunded and as a result people can’t be seen quicker. Why there aren’t enough police in our communities. Why there is an increase in knife and gun crime. Why housing is in short supply.
There is a harmful ‘race to the bottom’ with governments competing to cut tax rates, undermining their tax base, putting further pressure on the public services which all need for a healthy society, and often increasing the load on those with least ability to pay. Recent research by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has shown that cuts in UK corporation tax from 30% to 19% since 2006 has reduced revenues from 3.5% of GDP to just 2.6% today.
Key issues – Tax dodging
There was an estimated $500bn lost to tax avoidance globally in 2017 (United Nations World Instituted for Development), £34bn and £120bn every year in UK and $100bn to $300bn in developing countries. At the heart of the tax dodging problem is the presence of ‘secrecy jurisdictions’ or ‘tax havens’, many of which are British Overseas Territories (including the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands) or Crown Dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man). Secrecy jurisdictions have low tax rates, weak legislation or easily exploitable loopholes. The approximate number of business registered in the Cayman Islands is 100,000. The population of the Cayman Islands is 60,000. Is this right?
At the moment most international tax rules are agreed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), whose membership consists of 35 wealthy countries. Global South countries are not able to play a full role in these discussions.
Parliament has a vested interest so it is going to be a difficult task, people will accuse you or stain your image to discourage or dampen your spirit, but we must never stop doing the right thing. Trust that God is with us! This is your fight, you’re not spectator!