The NHS: ‘A Piece of Real Christianity’
There are two significant dates in July that may at first glance seem unrelated – the 5th is the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service, and the 31st is when I owe my ‘payment on account’ taxes to the Inland Revenue.
The NHS was based on the idea that anyone should be able to access medical care regardless of their financial situation. As it comes to the end of its seventh decade, it can claim to have raised life expectancy across an entire population, eradicated polio and diphtheria, pioneered liver, heart and lung transplants, and made us a society that cares for its most vulnerable. Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Health Minister who did more than anyone else to bring it into being, famously said: ‘I’m proud about the National Health Service. It is a piece of real Socialism. It is a piece of real Christianity too, you know.’
The 31st of July always creeps up on me too fast. Part of my work is freelance and every year I resolve to set aside the portion I owe the government when payment for each project comes in. I’ve never yet done it, so there’s invariably a scramble to find the cash when the deadlines approach. I catch myself feeling resentful, as though my money is being taken from me.
Romans 13:7 says: ‘Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.’ Paying taxes is an intrinsic part of discipleship, not only because it’s a legal requirement, but because in the UK our taxes are used to meet the needs of the sick, the dying, the very young, the elderly, and the disabled – care of whom is a mark of true faith (James 2:14-17).
There is a growing consensus that the NHS is facing a funding crisis, the impact of which many of us will have felt. A survey carried out by the King’s Fund in 2017 found that 60% of respondents supported a tax rise to sustain the health service. What would the percentage be if all those surveyed were Christians?
The 5th of July encourages me to give thanks for the evidence of God’s goodness visible in wider society; the 31st of July allows me to contribute to that. For all of us, tax payers or not, comes the encouragement to seek to show something of ‘real Christianity’ in our everyday lives.
Jo is Director of Church Communications for CPO and a writer, editor, and speaker. Her latest book is Home: The Quest to Belong (Hodder). She blogs at joswinney.com.