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How the Autumn Statement exposed my selfishness

James Mildred

Jeremy Hunt - Chancellor
"As a Christian, I think my initial reaction was to look at this Statement through this lens: how does it benefit me? But that actually strikes me as a really quite selfish way of looking at things."
James Mildred Director of Communications and Engagement

This week saw the Autumn Statement in the House of Commons. CARE's James Mildred reflects on how the Statement exposed his own selfishness and explains some of the key biblical principles to help you think about money, tax and the nation's finances.

Did you watch the Chancellor’s Autumn statement? If I’m honest, I missed it and I’m not that sad I did. In my defense, a whole load of announcements – more than 100! – involving sums of money is pretty boring. Plus, I have watched whole budgets before and honestly, it is time I cannot ever get back. I’m far more content reading the live commentary provided by the BBC, or looking at the summary in in the House of Commons Library. Then there’s really useful analysis by groups like the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Martin Lewis from Money Saving Expert.

So I might not have watched it, and you might not have watched it, but like me you’re probably still aware of some of the key headlines. Top of them is the big ‘tax cut’. Millions of workers will pay less national insurance from January next year, with the rate being cut from 12% to 10%. The self-employed will also benefit from a reduction in National Insurance from 9% to 8%.

Other headline announcements are: benefits, including Universal Credit, rising by 6.7% from April 2024, the national minimum wage will rise from £10.42 to £11.44 an hour and will apply to workers aged 21 and over for the first time ever. Plus, there’s new rules that mean some Universal Credit claimants could face harsher sanctions if they don’t go along with new rules on looking for work.

If you’ve followed CARE’s work for any length of time, you might know that historically, we have campaigned for a fairer tax system. Our focus has been on the absurd way the current system focuses obsessively on individuals and fails to take into account family responsibilities. This has a perverse impact on families, especially on one-earner families. From this perspective, the Autumn Statement failed to shift the dial at all. In fact, according to some excellent analysis by our friends at Tax and the Family, it will actually make the situation worse.

That’s CARE’s response. But what about my own? Several thoughts come to mind. Firstly, the Chancellor clearly has the election very much on his radar. Giving tax breaks like the NI reduction is classic electioneering. Secondly, I did get mildly excited at the prospect of a possible cut in income tax because since taking on a mortgage, I’m far more engaged in how much I’m paying to the government each month! It seems I’ll have to wait until the Spring of next year to enjoy that potential perk.

Actually, for all my cynicism about these kind of statements, I remember back at the time of the Spring statement, our CEO Ross Hendry wrote an article on our website in which he said: budgets and Statements are moral documents. They reveal what we prioritise and they highlight what we consider to be most important.

I think that’s exactly right. So this article is partly me challenging myself to take our nation’s finances seriously. Our government’s ability to do certain things like building new hospitals (any of the promised 40 new ones in your area by any chance?), improve infrastructure, develop transportation, fund the National Health Service, support our military and replenish our depleted ammunition stocks is all dependent on how much it takes in through taxation, how much it borrows, how much it costs to service this debt. And all of these factors are influenced and affected by a whole range of external factors like the ongoing war in Ukraine, the conflict in the Middle East, the general health of the markets and how other major economies are doing. In other words, it is a hugely complicated business. But it also really, really matters.

And as a Christian, I think my initial reaction was to look at this Statement through this lens: how does it benefit me? But that actually strikes me as a really quite selfish way of looking at things.

So, going back to my initial excitement at the possible reduction income tax, now thought to be stored up until the Spring budget, was this a right reaction? After all, the Bible says “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).” Behind a love of money lies the sin of coveting, where we want what we don’t have. But it’s also an inherently selfish love. It’s about ourselves. It’s about our own security. If I want a tax cut so my life becomes more comfortable, I can save more, afford more nice things, spend more quickly on developing my flat, buy a car, go on holidays and so on, then honestly, some alarm bells should be going off.

This is why we need God’s word. It has so much to say on the theme of money. There are principles and lessons that could be applied both nationally, locally and also for churches and individuals. For me, this Autumn Statement was a prompt ultimately to reconsider my own attitude towards money and to ask: is it Christlike? It is godly? What I found was pretty simple: it turns out that I’m still a lot more selfish than I would like to think!

So, what are some of the bib­lic­al principles?

Firstly, the Bible is not anti-money. It is also not opposed to private ownership and saving wisely. In fact, being a good steward of what God gives you is commended and is evidence of wisdom. The Bible is not anti-money, but it is anti-greed, it is opposed to using money for selfish ambition and it warns powerfully against making money an idol.

Secondly, Jesus says we should pay our taxes and, of course, the Apostle Paul agrees! In Mark 12:17, our Lord says: “Give to Caeser what is Caesar’s and to God’s what is God’s.” This has often been taken to mean: pay your taxes and don’t resist the state’s right to take taxes from you. The same teaching is in Romans 13:6: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants who give their full time to governing.” Why should we pay our taxes? Two reasons are clear. Firstly, because the taxman is God’s servant who give their full time to governing. It’s an act of obedience! And secondly, paying taxes is an act of love. It is love to God (obedience is love to God in action) and it is also love for neighbour. Because what I give can be used to fund vital services, to provide benefits, to pay for a free at the point of use health care service and so on. Now turn these principles into a test of my own heart and attitude: do I joyfully and willingly pay my taxes? Do I resent the dent they make in my pay packet? Do I even think about what they could be used for? This is complex, because sadly the government uses tax receipts to pay for things like overseas abortion through its development budget. But I’m not expecting perfection from them. This is more about challenging my own attitude and heart and my own innate selfishness.

Thirdly, in the Christian worldview, work is good and being paid fairly for work is also just and righteous. Back in Genesis, when God made Adam he placed him in the Garden of Eden to ‘work it’ (Gen 2:15). To prevent people from working or to deny them work is to offend against the image of God in them. As such, in terms of the bottom-line intent, measures aimed at encouraging more people into work are surely right. What is more open to debate is how such measures are implemented and to whom they are targeted. But we must not forget the essential place of work in God’s grand design. Work in the Christian worldview should not, by the way, be limited to paid employment. In the Genesis narrative, work has the widest possible meaning.

Next, we should work for, aim for, pray for, long for, and campaign for an end to unjust distribution. Proverbs 13:23 says this: “A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.’ The laws of Old Testament Israel provided protection for and guaranteed provision to the most needy, the frailest and those in most economic need. Such principles are relevant today. They reflect the heart of our Father God who abhors favouritism. This then becomes a way by which we can assess each budget and statement: does it ensure those who are most in need are provided for? Does this principle of care for the most vulnerable mean we can and should support the pension triple lock, for example?

There should also be a spirit of generosity and compassion. The Bible says “God loves a cheerful giver”. The hoarding of money and savings for selfish intent and selfish reasons, in a way that stops us from sacrificially giving to others who are in need, is wrong. Rather, we should be characterized by a spirit of joyful generosity. This is what The Apostle Paul commends the Macedonian churches for in 2 Corinthians 9. As we look at the Autumn statement, what about the increase in the national minimum wage? Given that the cost of living has spiraled considerably, will this uplift be a blessing to those on lower wages, helping make sure they can afford the necessities and keep on top of rent payments? In the Bible, generosity is linked with compassion. As Chris Wright says, ‘wealth that God has enabled us to produce, must always be held and used with a compassionate heart and hand.’ There are people around us with needs more urgent than our own. How are we using our money to bless them? Does the Treasury’s latest raft of measures reflect an attitude of compassion towards the poor? Deuteronomy 15:17 says: “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that LORD your God is giving you, do not be heard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your poor brother.”

Sadly, for many, money is the idol they live for. This is the height of folly as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Jesus also tells us that storing up treasure on earth is pointless because one day, it will be of no use of us. He tells us that a better way to live is to store up treasure in heaven: ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Matt 6:19-21).

My challenge, then, to myself, is to grow in my understanding of how the Bible speaks about money, wealth, distribution, and individual responsibility. I’m sure that I will not find justification for any one particular political system and some will be completely rejected. Instead, I will find principles and commands that test my grasp on money, my selfishness, my desire for security. I will have to search my own heart and ask whether am I compassionate towards those in need? What I ask of myself, I should ask of the government as well. Does the government use our money to pursue justice? Does it demonstrate a spirit of generosity and compassion?

The answers to these questions may well help me decide who I’ll vote for at the upcoming general election.

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