Self-righteousness and the Council Tax

Jesus’ life and teaching towers over human history and politics. He is the light that shows us what is going on in clarity and true perspective. First, we listen to him and then we see, darkly at first and then more clearly. More than this, the truth is not easy. We have to fight for it, inside and out. So when Jesus addresses self-righteousness among the political leaders of his day – the Sanhedrin, law-makers and Temple Party and accuses them of self-righteousness, it is not merely a local skirmish but one of the universal sins of politics. We can escape it, with God’s help, but it lurks at the door, or takes up residence in the living room, especially of Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street. Self-righteousness is linked with hypocrisy, with being a gleaming tomb full of dead men’s bones – right on the outside and corrupt inside.

So when David Cameron writes to his local Council castigating them for their cuts, when the Council’s grants from government have fallen from £194m a year in 2009/10 to £122m this year, outwardly it righteously attacks cuts when inwardly it has caused them, and the media smells the whiff. The quest for truth, itself in danger of self-righteousness, smells out the full story as a dog sniffs for drugs. This is part of the Christian calling. We are called not to be wimps, as bishops and archbishops have often been, but to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and that is no passive supplicant business, but out there with the prophets avidly truth-seeking and outing hypocrisy.

Thus, when Osborne praises the Conservatives and himself for putting the economy right, he is hiding the bones. His “eliminating the deficit” is asking lots of poor people and organisations to take cuts so that his Government may glow with self-righteousness. It has happened before. In the Thatcher era employers sacked loads of people, destroyed the unions to depress working class pay, and told the rest to work harder, and then took the credit. They started to pay themselves mega-money, as “wealth creators”, but were extracting it from others.

It so happens that Osborne, for good economic reasons, like the fact that we are spending net 6% of our income abroad, will probably fail in this Parliament, as he did last, to balance the books. Nevertheless, the self-righteousness of the Tory establishment will not wane. Being right can always find an excuse.

But the quest for truth also leads us to ourselves. There are three main financial distortions to wealth in our economy. The first occurs through the electronic creation of money by banks which has hefted them a vast windfall of £1 trillion and more and led to the long-term City of London bonanza and the 2008 crisis. The second is the successful evasion of tax by the rich, both individuals and corporations, which has led to these groups receiving over £1 trillion they should not have, but the third, of a similar size involves many of us.

A vast majority of house owners have experienced house price rises averaging well over £100,000. Those who own these houses, some 20 million including privately rented properties, have therefore received a windfall, taking into account ordinary inflation, of well over £1 trillion, a vast transfer. This windfall does not come from no-where.

Who has paid? The processes are complex, but largely this money comes from the young who are paying vast amounts for houses or renting. Part of the story is the late middle aged beneficiaries who had lots of houses built for them, but failed to build them for the next generation. Much of the blame lies with Thatcher and Lawson who sold off Council Houses but did not use the income to build more houses. If this is deeply unfair, how can it be remedied?

Actually, there is a focussed, fair and economically sound answer. Council Tax Property Revaluations have not been done since 1993, largely because the rich who have benefitted considerably from house price rises, would also make a fuss about what is the required move in relation to paying this tax. Council Tax does not even tax the rich fairly now; someone who lives in a multi-million pound mansion only pays about three times more than someone who lives in a bedsit. Revaluation can be done now. At present Council Tax raises about £28 billion; it could easily raise twice that amount, solving most of George Osborne’s problems. It would also take the steam out of the dangerously overheated housing market in the South East. We who have had windfalls from house price rises should advocate this policy to help put right the injustice from which we have benefitted. Let’s do it and solve the Government’s problems.

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