All politicians worry about their legacy. Some of course, have more to worry about than others. Some wait for others to decide what their legacy is, or even if they have one. Some feel the need to shout about what they see as their legacy just to make sure they are remembered for something.
Last week, a couple of recent political figures, a former prime minister and chancellor, were making headlines claiming that their ambition of eliminating the public deficit had been achieved. Probably in the hope that this would be seen as their legacy. If I had been them, I’d have kept quiet; as legacies go, theirs is pretty toxic.
The price of their legacy has been more people experiencing not just poverty but destitution in Britain in particular as a result of welfare reform, sanctions and benefit caps.
The price of their legacy has been a huge reduction in money for public services, which has seen continued raising of the bar for accessing services for those in need right across public service provision.
The price of their legacy has been a public debate about “scroungers and strivers” which has eaten away at the very social fabric of society.
It is a legacy which has destroyed lives through the grinding of the souls of those in need through condemnation and shame, as well as the pain and struggle of increasing the trap of poverty and exclusion.
It is a legacy about which there is little to be proud.
This week the Swiss voted to continue to pay taxes. This seems extraordinary but true; periodically the federal government must ask the permission of the people to impose taxes to pay for public services. Just over 84% said yes. I don’t pretend to understand much about the Swiss political process but I like the idea of restating the contract between those who collect our taxes and use them on our behalf and those of us who pay them.
I also like the idea of restating why we pay them. I received notification today that my tax bill will be going up this year following the Scottish budget announcements. This is a good thing. I am fortunate enough to be paid enough to have some to share. Paying our taxes is how we share what we have and care for those in need. It is a living manifestation of what we mean by society, community, care for our neighbour and the stranger. It is not a transaction between state and citizen but a sharing between citizens so we can shape our society. And if we need more to meet the deficit then asking those with more to share is better than taking from those who already have less.
Every day at Cyrenians, we see the human reality of this legacy; more people facing tough realities, unable to flourish because the resources they might once have had are not available. The problem with a legacy which takes from the poor to cover the mistakes of the rich is it a legacy built not just on suffering in the short term but it tears at the soul of society, leaving scars that will not heal for generations. It is not a source of pride.
13th March 2018