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Should you give to charity if you’re on benefits?

Matt Holderness Portrait Matt Holderness
6 min

It’s a question that has never occurred to me before. Faith and generosity fit together like hand and glove – I’m a Christian and I give.

The Universal Credit claim handler had a different perspective. ‘So let me get this straight,’ he said. ‘You want to know if your giving to charity will affect your benefit payment? Why are you giving to charity in the first place if you need the government to help you pay your bills? It’s a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul isn’t it?’ he remarked without a hint of irony.  

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Compassionate gesture or a financial irresponsibility?

My instant reaction was that he was making a fair point. I shouldn’t be throwing other people’s money around willy-nilly. I needed to show respect for people’s hard-earned money, paid in taxation, to support me.

Who did I think I was to give some of it away?

As I walked away I began reflecting: should I really stop giving until I’m no longer receiving benefits? It didn’t sit right and, after some reflection, I’ve come to a much clearer view that aligns with what, I think, the Bible says about generosity.

Before I get there, let me back up and give you some context.

Freely you have received, freely give

I became a Christian in my early thirties, and I’ve always qualified for some form of tax credits to help support my income. Wages in the North of England are typically lower than the rest of the country and especially where I live with no major employers. Until recently my annual income had never been above the national average of £33k. But I still gave to church and charities on a monthly basis. I did so mainly because of Jesus’ words: ‘Freely you have received; freely give’ (Matthew 10:8).

Receiving benefits has often been a lifeline to pay the bills. We’ve got a complicated situation which means that I’m the only wage earner for a family with three kids and things can be super tight. It’s fair to say that without this help we would probably be looking at using the local foodbank on a regular basis.

Tax credits vs tax cuts (the boring bit)

Tax credits originated after a previous government abandoned adjusted tax rates. When my grandad had a young family, his tax rate was lowered so that he had more disposable income at hand. This was instead of making him pay a flat rate of tax and then him having to ask for some of it back from the government. He was at liberty to do what he liked with his money. Being a Chrisitan, he continued to give a portion of his income to church and charity despite his fluctuating circumstances, and he wasn’t challenged about doing so.

A firm decision 

Fast forward sixty years and I find myself in a similar holding pattern in terms of family finance. The difference is that I’m sat in the local job centre feeling guilty about being generous because the guy sat opposite me is saying that it isn’t my money to give away. That I shouldn’t be so frivolous with good taxpayers’ money, people who actually earn enough not to be reliant on government handouts.

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As I thought more deeply about the whole thing, I came to a decision: I’m still going to give to the causes I love because God’s call on my life is to be generous. 

Here are three reasons that convinced me to give even though I’m on benefits.

1. All money belongs to God

Whenever we think about money it should always begin from the same starting point: none of it is ours – it’s all God’s. This is widely regarded as the first rule of biblical finance. If we think 90% belongs to us and 10% belongs to God, we’re never going to be in a position to use God’s money in a way that reflects God’s generosity.

On this basis we can say that none of it belongs to the folks in charge of the country. It also doesn’t belong to any of us who give a large chunk of our income each month in taxes. Therefore, it doesn’t belong to any of us who happen to receive some of it back in the form of benefits. In the end all money belongs to God and whatever I choose to do with it, however I receive it, is only ever a means of passing it along.

When Jesus said to ‘give to Caesar what is his and to God what is God’s’ (Matthew 22:21), he was essentially saying that the earthly owner of money is irrelevant. What really counts is our heart attitude towards the owner of it all. 

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Whether I’m giving from my wage supplemented with benefits or from a place of financial abundance doesn’t really matter. I can evidence that it all belongs to God by using the money that comes my way in a wise manner and by not allowing the desire for more of it to overcome my heart. 

2. I should give all that I can

When I give my money away, especially when I’m on benefits, I can happily comfort myself in the knowledge that Jesus will commend me for my generosity. I know this is true because he commended the woman who gave all that she could to the work of God (Mark 12:41–44). 

Her small contribution would have been to pay the priest’s wages, but also to support the poor and marginalised in her community, of which she appears to be one. She demonstrated generosity in giving to things even when it appeared she couldn’t afford to. People might have accused her of religiosity in giving when she would ultimately have to rely on her community to help her out. But that was not Jesus’ view.

3. My giving should never be driven by guilt

‘There is nothing new under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Principles and practices of financial administration may shift from government to government, but the outcome should always remain the same: I’m a Christian and I give.

I did a quick bit of maths and realised that the tax I pay each month out of my wages is roughly the same amount of benefit I receive back. My Universal Credit payment is essentially an adjusted tax rate but in another guise. In effect I’m doing the exact same thing my grandad did all these years ago. 

Reframing it in this way means I don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed about giving. I’m just living in a particular time under a different regime. I’m using whatever financial systems govern me to live and show God’s love through my generosity. I’m still giving to ‘Ceasar’ and I’m still giving to God.

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Written by

Matt Holderness

Matt joined Stewardship in 2022 with over twenty years of marketing experience from marketing roles at Kendal College and Capernwray Bible School. He has degrees in Business and Marketing, Management Studies, Theology, and most recently a Masters in Hermeneutics. 

Through raising awareness of Stewardship’s services, Matt helps people explore the impact their generosity can have on the church and Christian charities. He’s passionate about supporting Evangelism and Bible causes, and has a particular interest in charities that are helping people in Poverty and Debt in the UK.