The Catholic bishops of England and Wales give taxation a positive edge in a new document being launched today. In the 40-page booklet, entitled "Taxation for the Common Good", which follows on from the Conference's 1997 document "The Common Good", the bishops call on the public to recognise the "sign of our solidarity with one another and our humanity" in the payment of taxes, calling it a "sign of social health and a moral good". In the wake of the Government's decision to launch a series of informal discussions on a wide-range of political issues, this booklet informs the public about on the issues surrounding taxation and public services, without favouring a particular political view. Instead, it attempts to put the role of taxation in society within the moral context of Catholic social teaching. In his foreword, Archbishop Peter Smith, Chairman of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales' Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, and Archbishop of Cardiff, writes: "Debates about the levels and incidence of taxation are part of the staple diet of political discourse in our society. They are issues on which our political parties will often hold sharply differing views. What is it, then, that the Church might have to add to the debate? "The answer is a moral context. What is often missing from debates about taxation is a realisation of what taxation represents in terms of a shared commitment as citizens to building up a society that serves the common good". Tracing the history of taxation, the document emphasises its function as a key way in which an individual takes part in political life and looks at taxation as a factor in defining "in a profound way, what kind of society we wish to live in". In this context, the document explores the profoundly important issues around the individual responsibilities this implies. For example, should we be allowed to withhold taxes for policies which are against our conscience such as NHS abortion services or the production of nuclear weapons? Are some forms of taxation immoral? What does the citizen get for his or her money? The document attempts to dispel the myth that public services paid for out of taxation are simply "parasitic on the wealth-creating sector" - the idea that the private sector really earns the money to pay tax. The bishops' call this a "false dichotomy" made clear "as soon as we reflect on the many things which go to make the 'wealth' of society, not least health, education, social order, social well-being, good housing". It adds: "The dignity of the person is to be respected. The church rejects any condemnation of those who depend on a safety net provided through taxation which judges them a burden. However, we bear in mind that Church teaching includes a warning about becoming too dependent on welfare and it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that this does not happen by assisting those on welfare benefits who could be usefully employed, to seek work." The bishops emphasise that the Government "has an obligation to watch over the interests of the poor and most disadvantaged because power is not distributed evenly in society". However, they also question the morality of certain developments in taxation, including progressive taxation, which, they argue "has become less progressive in the last 25 years with the increase in indirect taxes and the tendency of government to use them to generate revenue rather than raise income tax". The document emphasises that justice must underlie any fair system of taxation. It says: "Redistributive justice means that tax is levied according to ability to pay and goods are distributed according to needs and necessities. It does not mean, therefore, that everyone should pay or receive the same, because some have greater wealth and some have greater need." The bishops link the obligations of Government to consult on and levy taxes fairly, to ensure that such decisions do not inadvertently distort economic behaviour or undermine other socially desirable policies like pollution reduction with solidarity and justice, which, they say, are "theological and moral virtues". "There is a modern-day fiction which makes many people uncomfortable with some of the claims of solidarity. This is that what we own and what we earn are obtained by our own unaided efforts and that, therefore, we have an absolute right as to how we use it and dispose of it," it says. In truth, the document says, "in order to make a product and sell it for a profit, the company needs more than just raw materials. It also needs an educated workforce who has access to healthcare in a peaceful, ordered society. It needs roads and other infrastructure. There are also such intangible things as trust and honesty which reduce the costs of legally enforcing contracts. All of these are provided for by society." This, they say, is contributed to via tax. The document also lists and explores the main sources of revenue, who pays and how, as well as the public services available.
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