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Dr John Sentamu calls on Chancellor to make ending poverty a priority
11:00am Tuesday 19th March 2013 in News
In a special article for The Press on the eve of the Budget, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, says those who earn more should pay more in taxes
In difficult economic times, there are always tough choices which must be made by those we elect to decide where our money is spent. My philosophy is that first and foremost, as a society, we should always prioritise our support and care for the most vulnerable people.
Whoever is to blame for creating the economic downturn – short-sighted politicians or overpaid bankers in their gambling casinos – it should not be the poor and those in need who are forced to suffer the majority of the pain.
In York, I was sponsor of the Fairness Commission. We made a conscious decision, based on all available evidence, to advise the local council to prioritise essential services and protect as best as possible the values of social justice.
We know from our own experience that when cuts of over £20m need to be made from local budgets that, inevitably and regrettably, either cuts need to be made to some services or taxes would need to increase – or a combination of these two things.
The sad fact is that politicians, of whichever persuasion, will all too readily promise the earth in order to win favour in the short term – but as an independent Fairness Commission we felt we had a responsibility to tell people about the crisis being faced, without sugar-coating the pill.
The economic reality is that we need to make tough decisions about what is important to us as a society and how we fund these priorities.
As the Government takes its final decisions on the Budget, I would like to see two areas in particular prioritised.
1 Justice and compassion must be at the core of all decision-making – how do we stand up for those who have no voice in our community?
2 We need to invest in communities to ensure that at a grassroots level people have the ability to help themselves out of poverty – that means investment in education, training and jobs.
Ingrained poverty is probably the biggest challenge facing our society – there are many causes, but we must redouble our efforts to eradicate it wherever it occurs.
We must not allow a generation of young people to grow up without hope for a better future. When there are no jobs, what is the point of striving hard for better grades at school?
The level of youth unemployment in this country is simply scandalous – about one million young people not in work, education or training. We need to see the Government invest in apprenticeships and jobs across the country.
Too often we see a north-south divide growing. It simply is not right that the vast majority of investment and job creation is happening in the south-east of England while other areas are left abandoned.
In and around London there is a massive housing crisis. There is a desperate need for affordable housing to be built and for the number of people waiting on the housing register to be reduced. This is not going to improve if the majority of job opportunities remain in the nation’s capital city.
We need to see the Government encourage genuine regional development where strategic growth is encouraged. Our cities, like Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester, should be economic hubs of excellence and enterprise.
Also we need to see a national living wage introduced. It is appalling that six out of ten households in poverty in the UK have at least one person in work. Every single person should be paid a fair living wage for a fair day’s work.
People say we cannot afford to do this, but I say we cannot afford not to. Businesses that can only survive by profiting on exploiting the lowest paid do not deserve to be in business.
We live in a society where executive pay is rising. Can it be right that we have some chief executives at the top earning 300 times what an employee at the bottom can earn? Income inequality on this level is unjustifiable and corrosive.
Look at our social care system. How can it be that in spite of our older generation giving so much to make this country great, we still turn our back on them in their time of need.
We must have a fair funding system for social care which ensures no one is forced into debt or sell their house to pay for essential healthcare.
Yes, we need to see wellsprings of solidarity, hope and generosity across our nation – but remember, delivering fairness and dignity is nothing to do with generosity, it is about justice.
Whatever decisions are taken in the Budget we cannot lay the blame solely at the door of our politicians. Remember, they do our bidding and represent our views.
If we want better public services and the vulnerable to be cared for then the fact is someone has to be pay for this.
I say the fairest way to do this is through a tax system where those who earn more put more back in. If we want to see society flourish then all must contribute what they can for the common good. None of us should hide from our social responsibilities.
For me as a Christian this is at the heart of what I believe and how I seek to live: we should love one another, just as God has shown his love to us.