An Easter message from the Dean of Wakefield, The Very Revd Simon Cowling

Less than a week after Easter Day the new tax year will begin.
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Anyone who is required to file a tax return for HMRC will be busy gathering the documentation necessary to complete the task in good time.

Or perhaps not: the deadline for tax returns is not until 31 January next year and, if past records are anything to go by, nearly 50 per cent of people will not have completed their return by the start of next year.

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Tax returns are complicated, of course, and there are many reasons why people might want to talk with HMRC staff about what is needed.

Dean of Wakefield, The Very Revd Simon Cowling.Dean of Wakefield, The Very Revd Simon Cowling.
Dean of Wakefield, The Very Revd Simon Cowling.

So the announcement a couple of weeks ago that the helpline run by HMRC would not, in future, be operating between April and September – exactly the months in which people are most likely to need help – caused much concern.

Questions were raised in Parliament, and the decision was speedily reversed (for this year at least). The Chief Executive of HMRC, Jim Harra, stated ‘We’ve listened to the feedback and we’re halting the helpline changes’.

Good for Mr Harra. But the concern over the original decision to close the helpline should not have been a surprise to him, or indeed to anyone.

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An online chat function will never be an adequate substitute for speaking to a human being. Quite apart from the fact that neither a chatbot nor a series of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ seems ever to get you very far, human interaction is the of the essence of what it means to be – well, human.

The gradual erosion of the possibility of such interactions in many areas of life diminishes our humanity and makes us ever less curious about the world and one another.

Think about how visits to the supermarket have changed: self-checkouts are the new normal, and the casual conversation with the person on the till is almost a thing of the past.

And the once common sight of a whole range of bank branches on our High Street is now a distant memory: we can transfer money, and even pay in cheques, almost instantly on our ‘phone or tablet in the comfort of our home. Of course, there is a convenience to many of these developments (it’s easy to get nostalgic!); but for many of us that convenience is accompanied by a tinge of regret for the way things once were.

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The Good News of Easter, which Christians will celebrate with such joy on Sunday, would surely never have had such world changing consequences if it had only been communicated digitally two thousand years ago.

Only the flesh and blood witness of the first apostles was able adequately to communicate to others the joy, excitement and deep meaning of God’s resurrection of Jesus Christ on that first Easter Day.

As their successors, Christians today have much to thank those first apostles for.

Happy Easter to you!

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