The following letter was published in The Guardian this morning:
Thank you to Nick Hayes for neatly turning the Christian message on its head with his Comment cartoon (16 April), in which Jesus is saying “unto” Zacchaeus “Give not unto the poor but to thine ailing state”. The Zacchaeus 2000 Trust was founded in response to the poll tax, which took 20% of the tax out of unemployment benefits intended for food, fuel and other necessities, which were already substantially below the poverty line, while the Treasury slashed the top rate of tax. The same is happening again. The top rate of income tax of wealthy private landlords in Westminster is cut; they are evicting very vulnerable tenants and their families into temporary accommodation, then increasing the rents and reletting to people who can afford them.
But on this occasion the tax on the poorest citizens is a cap on housing benefit; that part of the rent no longer paid by the housing benefit has to come out of unemployment benefits intended for necessities, which remain below the poverty line. That is the state’s debt and deficit reduction policy. Signatures are welcome at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/25438.
Meanwhile, legal aid is cut for social security cases. Charities like ours, which work in that unjust gap because the desperate need is there, but with fury because only the state can fill it, can claim less of the tax of the wealthy from that same state. St Luke’s Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was a very short, corrupt, rich tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus walking through Jericho; meeting Jesus, he gave back to the people he had swindled four times the amount of tax he had taken and gave half the balance to the poor. The dark thought has crossed my mind that the Treasury is beyond redemption; perhaps someone could buy the chancellor a tree.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Chair, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust