By Guy Brandon, 9 April 2015
One of Labour’s recent election pledges has been to end the controversial ‘non-dom’ status that allows some wealthy people to avoid paying tax on earnings made outside the UK. What is the biblical significance of this?
Jubilee Centre is a non-partisan organisation (though some of its staff are and have been known to be partial to one or other political party). Rather than endorse a party, our book Votewise seeks to unpack different voting issues from a biblical perspective. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to take a similar approach with some of the headline policies, using them as a way to unpack the Bible’s insights around questions of how we do politics and society.
A quick rundown on non-doms
The non-dom status is an odd quirk from another era. Sky News explains, ‘It was introduced by William Pitt the Younger in 1799 – along with income tax. The caveat was included as an allowance for ships bringing goods back from the colonies.’
- There are around 116,000 non-doms in the UK
- After 7 years they have to pay an annual fee of £30,000 to remain in the UK, and will pay £90,000 after 17 years from 2016.
- It is unclear whether scrapping non-dom status would save money or cost money. More tax might be paid in the UK, but some non-doms might leave, taking jobs, talent and investment with them.
From a biblical worldview, the issue is not ultimately one of money, though that comes into it. It’s one of allegiance and identity.
It is telling that the non-dom debate is going on alongside another one about immigration but, like parallel lines, there seems to be no chance that they will ever meet. A non-dom essentially claims status as an immigrant but, like Brits abroad (‘ex-pats’), we don’t view them in the same way as low-paid economic migrants or refugees.
The Bible has two main categories of immigrant: the ger and the nokri. The ger is the refugee or migrant labourer, a displaced and vulnerable category of people the Israelites are commanded to love, along with other isolated groups like orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). They are encouraged to integrate fully with Israelite society and religion. The nokri was someone who was independent, both financially and culturally. They had little interest in integrating with Israel and represented a potential threat to both its religion and economy.
The non-dom is effectively someone who has taken on nokri status voluntarily. The modern-day nokri has one foot out of the country and avoids paying taxes to support the infrastructure and public services that they nevertheless use, though their business might otherwise be beneficial to the country.
Israel offered an attractive vision – ‘a light to the nations’ – and welcomed any who genuinely wanted to be a part of it. Those who were willing to integrate were given unqualified welcome. Those who did not were treated with more caution, including in their financial dealings.
There’s a wider issue here, about the vision that Britain presents to the world, who we welcome and who we really consider British. But the ger/nokri distinction has direct relevance to the question of whether special treatment should be given to those who exploit the UK’s tax system whilst, to all intents and purposes, treating the country as their home.
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