BRITAIN’s most senior Roman Catholic has condemned the UK government’s economic policy as “immoral” for ignoring the poor and protecting “the very rich”.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien made his attack just four days before Thursday’s Scottish council elections as he threw his weight behind the introduction of a “Robin Hood tax” on financial transactions.
He joins a continuing clamour of anger over last month’s Budget which saw a 5 per cent income tax reduction for the wealthiest 1 per cent – those earning £150,000 or more – at the same time as a so-called “granny tax” on pensioners was introduced and the number of people paying the higher 40p rate of income tax rose.
There are fears that the government’s austerity measures are not only hurting low and middle-income earners, but also stopping economic growth, as last week Britain went in to a double-dip recession.
Cardinal O’Brien urged the Prime Minister to introduce a “Robin Hood tax” on financial transactions to raise money for the poor.
Mr Cameron is opposed to unilateral action on a financial transactions levy and described plans for an EU-wide scheme as “madness”. But Cardinal O’Brien said: “My message to David Cameron is to seriously think again about this Robin Hood tax, the tax to help the poor by taking a little bit from the rich. The poor have suffered tremendously from the financial disasters of recent years and nothing, really, has been done by the very rich people to help them.
“I am saying to the Prime Minister: ‘Look, don’t just protect your very rich colleagues in the financial industry – consider the moral obligation to help the poor.’”
The cardinal said he was not only concerned about people in “abject poverty”, but also people who might have thought themselves “reasonably well-off”.
He said: “It is these people who have had to suffer because of the financial disasters of recent years and it is immoral. It is not moral just to ignore them and to say struggle along, while the rich can go sailing along in their own sweet way.”
His intervention was welcomed by charities pushing for a Robin Hood. Judith Robertson, head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “The Robin Hood Tax is gaining support all the time and Cardinal O’Brien’s backing is a thoroughly welcome and timely addition to the campaign.”
Political opponents said the cardinal’s intervention underlined that Mr Cameron and the coalition were getting it wrong with the economy.
Labour’s Treasury spokeswoman, Cathy Jamieson, said: “David Cameron is not in touch with the realities of life for modern-day families. There is nothing he has said that persuades me that he understands what it is like to be a low-paid, part-time worker who has just lost £3,000-£4,000 a year in tax credits.”
But yesterday, the government argued its problem was the debt it had inherited from the previous Labour administration.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is determined to help people who are struggling with the consequences of that. That’s why the last Budget took two million people on the lowest incomes out of tax altogether, and, from April, pensioners will see the largest ever cash rise in the basic state pension.”