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The Taxpayers Alliance (TPA) usually gets extensive media coverage for its work, and this holds true for its latest report, ‘Work for the Dole’ written by former Conservative candidate Chris Phelp.
‘Work for the Dole’ proposes that, "after a certain time, anyone claiming the Universal Credit should undertake compulsory activity... It would address the problem, as described recently by Lord Hutton of Furness, of those 'who choose consciously not to work'".
You can see Niall Cooper of Church Action on Poverty debating it here on the BBC with TPA Chief Executive Matthew Sinclair. Mr Sinclair and the TPA appear to share Iain Duncan Smith’s belief that anybody who wants a job can get one, despite the fact that there are now, on average, more than 20 applicants for every vacancy.
With its belief in low taxes and small government, the Alliance prides itself on having considerable influence, and its website claims many ‘policy victories’, including Inheritance Tax cuts, the public sector pay freeze, and substantial cuts in public spending. It has played a big role in creating the current climate where ‘hardworking taxpayers’ are pitted against those in receipt of benefits. But this neglects the fact that many people fall into both camps. People working hard in low paid jobs may receive Housing Benefit or Tax Credits. Disabled people who work may receive Disability Living Allowance. And everybody, working or not, pays tax through VAT etc.
In contrast to members of the Taxpayers Alliance, many people are happy to pay tax, to help others who are less fortunate than they are, and to provide the public services which are needed to make any country a decent place to live. They may be taxpayers, but the Taxpayers Alliance does not represent them.
Happily, there is now an alternative organisation, but it has not yet got the resources or the political clout enjoyed by the TPA. It is Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP) It was founded by the Rev Paul Nicolson through the publication of his letter in the Guardian in February 2012, in which he called for a ‘A taxpayers’ alliance to promote social justice’.
Condemning the Bedroom Tax, benefit cap and other measure, Paul Nicolson wrote, "As a citizen who pays income and council tax, VAT and the excise duty on my evening glass of wine, I steam with indignation each time I am used by ministers to justify such draconian measures making people poorer." You can read the letter in full here.
Mr Nicolson could be called ‘a troublesome priest’ as he advocates civil disobedience where necessary, and says he is quite prepared to go to jail for his beliefs. He explains his reasons in clear and simple terms “At the heart of the teachings of every faith is Love Your Neighbour as Yourself. I’d like to see that idea back at the heart of politics.”
Membership of Taxpayers Against Poverty is free, so nobody is excluded on financial grounds. It would be good if this organisation, founded on a belief in economic justice and compassion, could gain a membership large enough to attract media attention, providing an alternative voice to the prevailing, more divisive philosophies.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet