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Rowan Williams calls for UK wealth tax to tackle ‘spiralling inequality’

The Guardian
The Guardian
 2022-02-17
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Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, has called on the UK government to impose a wealth tax on the super-rich to help tackle “spiralling inequality”, which he said was “deeply damaging to our collective morale and trust”.

Williams, who was the most senior bishop in the Church of England from 2002 to 2012, on Thursday joined a growing group of moral leaders demanding a one-off tax on the richest 1% of the population to help close the “staggering” gap between the richest and poorest in society.

“Spiraling inequality is a major issue in our society, and all the evidence suggests this is deeply damaging to our collective morale and trust,” Williams said. “A wealth tax of the kind we are backing recognises that vastly disproportionate rewards for a very small number of citizens will not make for a cohesive and just national community.”

Williams told the super-rich they should not view paying back to wider society as a tax burden but as “an opportunity to build a stable, sustainable economy that works for everyone”.

Wealth graph

Government figures show the richest 1% of households in the UK each have at least £3.6m . At the other end of the scale, the poorest 10% of households have £15,400 or less, with almost half burdened with more debts than they have in assets, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics last month.

It means the gap between rich and poor had widened to the largest in more than a decade even before the Covid pandemic struck.

Williams joined other leaders in the Church Action for Tax Justice campaign group demanding that the government take urgent action to combat inequality by introducing an initial one-off wealth tax on the richest 1% of the UK population, and commit to reviewing the tax regime with the intention of introducing ongoing wealth taxes.

A wealth tax on the top 1% could generate at least £70bn a year, according to research by Greenwich University . That would be equivalent to 8% of the current total tax take but would affect only about 250,000 households.

The Wealth Tax Commission , set up in 2020 to consider the costs and benefits of imposing a wealth tax, recommended a one-off 1% tax on households with more than £1m. It said the tax would generate £260bn – more than enough to cover a year’s funding of the NHS and social care spending.

Cat Jenkins, a manager at Church Action for Tax Justice, said: “As Christians, we believe we are called to highlight injustices in our society and to speak and act for change. The system, as it currently stands, unfairly favours the wealthy over those less well off. In times as hard as these, it’s even more crucial – and morally right – that the richest among us contribute a good measure towards the common good.”

The campaign group, which works with churches and Christians of various denominations, said: “It’s time that the wealthiest in our country were asked to pay a good measure of tax, rather than asking the less wealthy to contribute ever greater proportions of their income to the common good.”

A group of more than 100 members of the super-rich have repeatedly called on governments around the world to impose higher taxes on them. The Patriotic Millionaires movement, including the Disney heiress Abigail Disney , said the tax system was rigged in their favour and needed to be rewritten to make taxation fairer and restore trust in politics.

“As millionaires, we know the current tax system is not fair,” they said in an open letter . “Most of us can say that while the world has gone through an immense amount of suffering in the last two years, we have actually seen our wealth rise during the pandemic – yet few if any of us can honestly say that we pay our fair share in taxes.”

Such taxes are being introduced in Argentina, Bolivia and Morocco to help pay for the pandemic recovery. In Norway, about 500,000 people pay an 0.85% charge on their assets above the value of about £125,000.

The prospect of such a tax in the UK is rich people’s second biggest fear after the virus, according to Knight Frank’s wealth report .

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