Bishop urges tax boost for family values

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The Independent Online
An evangelical bishop has called for tax allowances for families which would encourage parents to stay at home. Speaking at the Evangelical Alliance in Bournemouth, Dorset, yesterday, the Bishop of Hull, the Rt Rev James Jones, told the 3,000 delegates that the present tax regime penalised parents.

"Politicians must match their rhetoric about the family with policies that actually strengthen the family. It is clear that the taxation system has been one of the major factors to drive both parents from home to the detriment of their children," he said.

The bishop also suggested that child benefit be doubled for couples who were prepared to go to parenting courses. "To plough millions of pounds, as we do, into consequences of bad parenting, instead of investing in good parents is like deliberately overlooking a vaccine in favour of treating an epidemic," he said.

However, he warned his audience against denouncing unchristian sexual morality, rather than trying to change it by persuasion and example. He compared British evangelicals today to the missionaries to Africa in the last century who were confronted with the problem of polygamy: "The least effective missionaries were those who insisted that potential converts first turn from their many marriages ... We witness many relationships that are less than the ideal, yet recognise that paradoxically there are virtues of security and friendship within them."

His speech marks a considerable growth in self-confidence among evangelicals, who hope that they are poised to begin a transformation of society similar to that achieved by their Victorian forebears.

The 3,000 leaders meeting in Bournemouth this week believe that they represent nearly half of Britain's Protestants, and will soon represent the majority. A recent poll of their churches has shown that support for social action and poverty relief is as strong as that for upholding traditional sexual morality and protesting against abortion.

"Victorian evangelicals remoralised society after the Industrial Revolution. God is calling us to remoralise this society as it enters the post- Industrial Revolution," the Rev Clive Calver, director general of the Evangelical Alliance, said yesterday.

The evangelical agenda of conservatism around the family but radicalism towards the problems of the poor is emerging clearly both from this conference and from the recent speeches of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.

Yesterday Dr Carey told an audience of local authority chief executives: "Parenting should surely be seen as a fundamentally important calling and duty requiring the most careful preparation, not least at school, and the strong support of the wider society."

But he also warned against excluding children from society and from schools: "I hold to firm discipline allied to caring teaching. Nevertheless, children who are excluded from school for whatever reason are a problem for us all because we know how strong is the correlation between school exclusion and a subsequent career of delinquency and crime.

"Excluded and marginalised people, especially frustrated young males, have a way of biting back in spectacular fashion. Exclusion as a tactic, without a strongly resourced strategy for helping those youngsters back along the road of self-respect and reintegration in society, would surely prove disastrous."

He praised the recent Roman Catholic bishop's document The Common Good, which has been widely seen as an exhortation to vote against the Conservative government. "The gap between the poorest and richer parts of our society has increased, even if there is a great deal of mobility between the two. Only those determined to ignore the evidence will deny that there are significant sections of our society living in circumstances which should not be tolerated," Dr Carey said.