By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has used an address to Britain’s Trade Union Congress to speak of a society where church-run food banks and homeless shelters are no longer needed.
Archbishop Justin delivered his address as the TUC gathered in Manchester for their annual conference in its 150th year, and told them that unions must have a vision of a just and a righteous society.
In 2014 Archbishop Justin lamented the existence of so-called “payday lenders”, which charge annual interest of several thousand per cent when providing short-term loans to vulnerable people. Referencing the largest of the companies, he said that he wanted to “compete Wonga out of business” through the creation and expansion of Credit Unions. Last week the company was placed in administration.
‘Five years ago, I said to the Chief Executive of Wonga that I wanted credit unions to compete him out of business. Well he’s gone!,’ Archbishop Justin told the TUC during his speech.
‘Today I dream that governments, now and in the future, put church-run food banks out of business.
‘I dream of empty night shelters. I dream of debt advice charities without clients. When justice rolls down like waters and righteousness, like an ever-flowing stream, the food banks close, the night shelters are empty, families and households are hopeful of better lives for themselves and their children, money is not a tyrant, and justice is seen,’ he stated.
He added: ‘This not a vision for government alone. Governments of any party, all parties, will fail, act foolishly, be far away. Only partnership between governments, civil societies – including unions and churches – business and community, can heal the sicknesses of society now and in the future.’
He said that for people at lower income levels, real earnings were virtually the same as they were 20 years ago, having risen by just 1.7 per cent. This, he said, compared with a rise of 11 per cent of FTSE 100 chief executives’ pay in just the past year.
‘We need genuine living wages that enable people to save more than £10 [GBP] a month, if they’re lucky, and put an end to the days when replacing a fridge or a car tyre is a household crisis. Unions are crucial to achieving real living wages.’
And he took a swipe at multi-national companies with aggressive tax-avoidance practices. ‘Not paying taxes speaks of the absence of commitment to our shared humanity, to solidarity and justice,’ he said.
‘If you earn money from a community, you should pay your share of tax to that community. I was in business, and I know that, within limits, it is right and proper for people to arrange their tax affairs, and for companies to do so. But when vast companies like Amazon, and other online traders, the new industries, can get away with paying almost nothing in tax, there is something wrong with the tax system.
‘They don’t pay a real living wage, so the tax payer must support their workers with benefits, having leached off the tax payer once they don’t pay for our defence, for security, for stability, for justice, for health, for equality, for education. Then they complain of an undertrained work force, from the education they have not paid for, and pay almost nothing for apprenticeships. Those are only a fraction of the costs of aggressive tax management,’ he said.
Archbishop Justin received a standing ovation at the end of his speech, which came shortly after he joined other leading figures in calling for a “fundamental reform” of Britain’s economy in a report published by the Institute of Public Policy Research.