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Debois-nickNick de Bois is the Member of Parliament for Enfield North. Follow Nick on Twitter.

The intervention from 43 Anglican bishops in the public debate on welfare
benefits could not be more timely. As a country, we are in very choppy waters.
Public policy decisions due to be made in the next few months and years will be
critical to setting Britain’s future course. The bishops’ letter strikes a
moral tone against limiting benefits rises to 1% a year for the next three
years. But it is their position which should provoke moral outrage.

No-one
wants to take away benefits from people who are worst off in society. No-one.
The fact that we have to do so lies with the economic reality that, even in times of
growth and prosperity, the previous Government increased the welfare bill by
some 60%, to a staggering £200billion. To fund what the Government was giving
with one hand, it simply took more with the other.

Labour
took us to the position where, in Britain, the Government imposes high taxes on
its citizens in order to give them back their own money in benefits. As Dr Liam
Fox rightly argued yesterday:

“Today, we see the full destructive consequences
of that behaviour with ordinary families paying too much tax so that it can be
given back to them in benefits and credits… It is debilitating for society,
demeaning for individuals and expensive for the taxpayer.”


The
Welfare Trap that the last Government created ensnared five million people, and
meant almost two million children were growing up in homes where nobody worked.
Where was the moral outrage when the welfare system made it financially
disadvantageous for the worst off in society to take a job instead of benefits?
Was it not “deeply disproportionate” that some of the poorest and most
vulnerable in society were subject to tax rates of 70%, 80% or even 90% due to
the structure of the benefits system? It is disappointing that only now, with a
Conservative-led Government seeking to free people from welfare dependency,
that the bishops have found their voice.

William
Hague as Party leader in 2003 made the moral case against government imposing
high taxes on its citizens. “High taxes”, he said, “mean less freedom, less
responsibility, less community, more dependency, a less elevated human
condition”. It was right then, and it’s right now.

High
taxes do of course mean less freedom. The more a government takes from a person
in tax, the more it limits that person’s ability to follow their own values and
preferences rather than someone else’s. “It is this recognition of the
individual as the ultimate judge of his ends”, wrote Hayek, “the belief that as
far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions, that forms the
essence of the individualist position”.

More
government activity funded by higher taxes then creates a downwards spiral. As
the state gets larger, the individual gets smaller. But worse, the more the
state grows by providing more for its citizens, the more its citizens come to
expect from their government. The more we pay, the more we expect to see the
state do for us and therefore the less responsible we become.

This
downward spiral continues because when individuals begin to rely on the state
more, community recedes. Eamonn Butler, Director of the Adam Smith Institute,
spoke at a TaxPayers' Alliance event entitled “The Moral Case for Lower Taxes”.
He explained how higher taxes mean less community, saying:

“Politicians and
officials have their own interests and agendas when tax is taken from us… I
think it promotes interest group politics because you have this wodge of public
cash and people are vying for their share of it and they want other people to
pay. It’s morally corrosive because it makes us think of ourselves as ‘groups’
which are supplicants to the state, and ‘let’s get our bit and stop everyone
else getting theirs’”.

I look forward to even more Conservatives taking up this
theme and resisting the urge to enter into a bidding war with Labour on who
raises more tax.

And
of course, with a Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, higher taxes under Labour
led to greater dependency. It is difficult to see how anyone could argue that
trapping people into welfare dependency creates a more ‘elevated human
condition’.

The moral arguments for reducing the welfare bill are there to be made, and as
this week proves beyond all doubt, it is only Conservatives that will make
them. Making difficult decisions in order to deliver welfare reform will stand
as one of the Conservative-led Government’s proudest achievements. In 2015 when
Britain chooses its Prime Minister, achievements like this will reinforce in
people’s minds that Britain can continue on a clear course with David Cameron,
or risk being sunk by putting Ed Miliband at the helm.

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