“In this day and age, if someone earns £1m, I mean firstly you’re giving 80 to 85 per cent away in taxes – income tax, national insurance, VAT – then you provide for your family’s education, shelter, warmth; at the end of the day, there’s not much left for what you might call yourself.”
A fascinating, and slightly disturbing, article in today’s Independent, explores the question as to whether evangelical Christianity is taking a hold of the City of London’s financial institutions.
Whilst the relationship between faith and finance runs deep (Barclays was originally a Quaker-run bank), Alex Preston explores the role of more recent developments – Alpha, Christianity Explored and other similar initiatives – in attracting a new generation of City-types to faith.
His conclusions are troubling: Whilst the vast majority of the City Christians he met were decent people using their faith to make sense of a dog-eat-dog world, it’s clear that Alpha and the majority of other evangelistic initiatives pointedly sacrifice asking hard questions about the relationship between faith and wealth which might stand in the way of members’ economic advancement.
So how do Christian bankers respond to the Gospel challenge to the wealthy? Seemingly with the same self-justifying rationalisations that Polly Toynbee found in researching her book, Unjust Rewards ‘It’s a fact of modern life that there is disparity and ‘is it fair or unfair?’ is not a valid question. It’s just the way it is and you have to get on with it.’
Hence the quote at the top of the page from Nick Fletcher, member at Holy Trinity Brompton and chief executive of financial advisers Saunderson House: A breathtaking attempt to claim its tough to make ends meet on £1 million a year. (I’d certainly not go for financial advice to anyone who can claim that they are paying 80-85% in tax).
As the Catholic Bishops Conference concluded as far back as 1997: “There may come a point at which the scale of the gap between the very wealthy and those at the bottom of the range of income begins to undermine the common good. This is the point at which society starts to be run for the benefit of the rich not for all its members.”
And as one banker Preston quotes says: “The City isn’t immoral any more, it’s amoral.”
Sadly, the response still seems to be. Amen to that.