UUP MLA, Tom Elliott was one of the few elected representatives to attend The Impartial Reporter’s anti-poverty event last month.

His admission that it took a little persuasion from this newspaper’s Editor to get him there is refreshingly honest, and his personal political opinion on the meeting, as expressed in his column in the paper on November 30, is respected.

It is hardly surprising that Mr. Elliott’s core position differs from my own, but it might surprise him that on what he referred to as “a much deeper discussion on the issue” of people being content with less material wealth, he might find we two are both more closely aligned – if not on what changed that culture of making-do, mending and sharing across neighbours, as opposed to competing with ‘next door’ to look materially better-off than they are, then perhaps on the mutual benefits to all of us, and the planet we share, of curbing the coveting, chasing, consuming and then dumping of material objects long before their end-of-useful life.

We might not be far apart either on a view that contentment can be found in learning to live in harmony with the beauty around us that is provided free-of-charge by nature, and the mutual exchange of kindness, caring and compassion which add substance to that religious strapline about loving your neighbour as yourself, and the forgotten subtext that your neighbour is all of humanity, not just those ‘who walk like you, talk like you’, and agree with your personal philosophy or party politics.

Maybe The Impartial Reporter will facilitate an event in the spring on that deeper subject, but for today, since some misunderstanding of my contribution to the anti-poverty event forms the greater part of Mr. Elliott’s review of the meeting, I owe him the respect of clarification and response.

Mr. Elliott might agree with me that having individual ownership of a stack of single dollar bills reaching from sea-level to the outer limit of the earth’s atmosphere ought to be on the ‘things to be content with less of’ list, especially knowing that for every dollar bill in that private stash, there is a human being in the world, therefore a neighbour, without sufficient food and clean water.

I stand by my argument that there is something fundamentally wrong with that depth of inequality and with any democratic society, dependent on taxation to raise revenue for services that allows millionaires and billionaires to get-off comparatively tax free, while taxing ordinary working people within an inch of their lives.

These ultra-rich do not help broader society, as Mr. Elliott claims.

The really rich do not pay enough tax. Not here, and not anywhere.

They manipulate their global power to avoid paying taxes on wealth that is produced by the work of others, and with which – for greed – they pitch and toss in a game of Stocks And Shares in the high-class gambling den known as ‘The Market’.

Global agreements on fair taxation to stop that abuse are urgently needed to rebalance the obscene disparity in the distribution of wealth.

Missing the point on taxing the obscenely wealthy may explain Mr. Elliott’s misinterpreting the bit about the correlation between the NHS being broken, the taxation of earnings and senior consultants’ salaries.

The rhetoric of ‘slash and scorched earth’ is Mr. Elliott’s, not mine, and it was not me, but a spokesperson for the British Medical Association, who stated that NHS consultants were considering working a three-day week, because after three days’ work, they were working to give two days’ wages to the taxman.

I wondered how much you have to earn as a PAYE employee to be paying an average of 40p in every single £1 you earned?

The answer: more than £130,000 a year for a standard working week.

To explain further, forgive me for re-introducing mathematics to the column.

At £130k, take home pay would be £84,453, as HMRC would have taken £45,547 of it.

Working a three–day week would reduce that gross income to £66,000, and take-home to £47,333 – a financial pinch that would certainly deter the faint-hearted.

It also decreases the NHS consultant capacity by 40 per cent. A cut it could do without.

But ... if consultants’ basic full-time pay was £99,999, the NHS would save £30,000 per consultant on gross pay, and consultants’ would take home £67,052.42 – still a very comfortable wage, seeing them almost £20,000 a year better off than reducing their hours, as they get to keep more of their earned income.

This is because they would not lose any of the non-taxed personal allowance on the first £12,500; and as they’d earn less than the £100,000 threshold, they would have no tax at all at 45 per cent, which kicks in at just over £25k.

On the other hand, with almost £85k net in the full-time net pay packet, they might leave the taxman with his cut. I rest my case.

Mr. Elliott also disputes ‘the failed State’ which I believe Northern Ireland to be.

I appreciate that for anyone committed to the British Union, the concept is an ‘Appalling Vista’, but not accepting reality doesn’t make it go away, as the DUP is discovering about the Northern Ireland Protocol.

His only argument against the ‘failed state’ theory is that thousands of immigrants come to work and study here, so it can’t be such a terrible place to live. I didn’t say it was, and I don’t believe it is.

I said “this is a failed state” – the government is effectively bankrupt; the infrastructure of our public services is deeply broken; our political administration paralysed; and our political leaders devoid of coherent integrated and whole-society strategies for recovery, or socio-economic sustainability.

It is not a failed society.

I argued that that our best future lay in civic society, as evidenced by the collective work of people in the room; by our family farms and small businesses, our social and community enterprises, our immigrant communities, our public service workers – these are the people who are building sustainable community wealth, and who are here for the long haul.

This is the broader society which matters, and yes, Mr. Elliott, these people are poorer than they can ever remember.

There are no brownie points in 2023 for not still having The Famine, the workhouse, or the Union Seed.