Monday, 16 April 2012

Philanthropists: please feel free to love your fellow men after showing respect for your fellow citizens by PAYING TAX

It's not often that The Independent's editorials and the Guardian's letters page sound sceptical on the subject of charities (their needs and wants) and it is very rare indeed that I find myself in agreement with a Tory Minister, as I did while listening to Treasury Minister David Gauke on Today this morning.

But here it is: when people of modest and middle income pay tax - as they all have to - they have no choice as to what proportion of their money goes to the NHS, say, as oppose to finance wars they might not believe in or R&D projects they might not personally care about.

To paraphrase Danny de Vito speaking about money * it's called tax because everybody pays it, whether they feel like that or not; the state collects it centrally and distributes it as it sees fit, on your behalf and for the greater good of society as a whole- however the government in power happens to define it. If you live in a democracy and you have bothered to vote you will have played some role in deciding the broad brush of what that looks like.

So I do not think that while the majority of the little people see their hard earned cash spent re-tarmacing some stretch of motorway on the other side of the country or rehabilitating unpleasant young offenders, the very rich should pick and choose what and who they 'donate' to instead of paying tax. Will it be a new wing of a prestigious art gallery? Perhaps a season of ballet? Or even, why not, research into some impossibly rare and glamorous genetic condition which plagued grand-mamma's existence?

Tax does not imply generosity or personal glory: it's a civic duty and what it gets you in return is a stake in citizenship - everyone should be made to have that stake in the country they reside in. If you want to be generous on top of that, and maybe get something named after you into the bargain, be my guest.

I do not care how I get my art and culture: I'm very happy indeed if museums and theatres get sponsored to the tunes of millions by the rich, and they are welcome to the recognition, the gala opening, the special seats, the benefit dinners. But I do not want services to turn into charities, something that relies on a few rich people's generosity instead of the ability of the collectivity to provide.

For the record, I'd be interested to see (and the fact I have not seen this anywhere yet might be the answer to my question) how many of the unglamorous, non-artistic causes do in fact rely heavily on rich donors: how may women's refuges or local libraries or day care centres for severely disabled adults. My guess is not many. Meanwhile we know for sure many of these services have been severely reduced or cut down altogether in parts of the country because the state simply cannot afford to keep them going (having democratically made the political choice to cut the budget rather than raise taxes) .

As for those lefties, such as my husband, who unaccountably choose this issue to suddenly become realists ("We need to deal with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be: some amazing charities and institutions will suffer if you discourage rich people to donate)") I say: be the change you want to see in the world; don't just curl up and cave in to the worst version of what we, as a society, can be.

So the National Theatre (and you readers know how I love it) can cry me a river, frankly. If they have to schedule one fewer performance of Waiting for Godot in Armenian, so be it. The truth is, there will always be enough people, rich or otherwise, interested in theatre enough to keep some form of it afloat.

For everything else there is tax. It puts out fire, clears drains, trains policemen and nurses. It takes care of you even if you are smelly and old, and cures you even if you brought your sickness upon yourself. It doesn't judge you or rate you: it looks into your pockets and takes what you can give to pay for what you will need. That's why it's called tax.

(*"You need money? Everybody needs money! That's why it's called money!!!!", from the film Heist)