• Making Charitable Gifts and Paying Taxes

    The Christmas festive session is traditionally the time for charitable giving, when many of us recognise the need to ensure that the hungry can enjoy a Christmas dinner and that Father Christmas can bring presents on Christmas morning for kiddies who would otherwise go without.

    We should all give thanks for the efforts of those – like the Salvation Army and the City Missions – who think of others in this season of goodwill and who depend on donations from the public for the excellent work they do. The charitable impulse should never be under-valued; we are all better off as a society for the generosity of caring people.

    But we should also recognise the limitations of private charity. Giving and receiving is of value to both donors and recipients and has its own special and irreplaceable part to play; and there are of course those major benefactions from very wealthy people which fund valuable undertakings that would not otherwise get off the ground.

    Charitable giving, though, is not – as is sometimes suggested – an alternative to funding from the public purse; it cannot possibly meet the funding needs of major services like health care, education, income support and public housing. The sums raised are just too small and are too uncertain and unfocused to enable the planning and organisation that are required to guarantee basic standards in essential services – not just for the needy but for all of us – across such a wide front and over such a long period.

    If the public services on which so many in a civilised society now depend are to be properly funded, that funding has to be raised by a means that is much more systematic than that offered by sausage sizzles or rattling a collection box or random cold calling. The voluntary sector does much valuable work and needs constant support but cannot be expected to bear the whole burden.

    If we are truly concerned for the welfare of our fellow-citizens, and not just at Christmas time, we need to be sure that the funds are there to provide for the necessities of life; and we need to recognise that there is only one completely reliable source of those essential funds, and that is us – each one of us – and there is only way for us to be sure that those funds are systematically made available, and that is through paying our taxes.

    It simply does not make sense on the one hand to object to or resent paying taxes, and to seek to avoid doing so, and on the other, to try to salve our consciences by making occasional charitable donations. We may succeed in fooling ourselves that we are doing our bit through such attitudes, but those responsible for delivering public services and investing in our economic infrastructure know better.

    The good and kind heart that is evidenced as we donate to good causes should also manifest itself as we pay our taxes. A charitable impulse is of course highly commendable, but even more commendable is that sense of social responsibility and solidarity that leads us to pay our taxes willingly and supportively.

    This simple message is of course not directed just to individuals. It is even more pointed and pertinent when addressed to major (and often international) corporations, many of whom seem to spend a great deal of time and energy in avoiding their obligations to pay taxes on the huge profits they make. We should never forget that, behind the facade, the veil of incorporation, of each of these corporations, stand individuals, often very wealthy individual shareholders, who become even wealthier by avoiding the tax that they and their companies should be paying.

    The Christmas message should be clear. Many of us will make generous gifts to help those less well-off than ourselves and to allow small children to enjoy to the full a valuable part of their childhood. But if we are serious and genuine about wishing to help those in need to enjoy Christmas, we should recognise our responsibility tp ensure that our society as a whole makes proper provision to meet the needs of all of our fellow citizens – not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

    Bryan Gould
    4 December 2018