I have watched the tax avoidance issue unfold over the last week with a sense of incredulity to be honest. David Cameron said yesterday that he had handled it badly and that is probably the understatement of the year so far! What a mess. There was a march on Downing Street yesterday which demanded his resignation, calls on social media for his resignation and demands that the whole cabinet release details of their tax returns. Channel 4 asked every member of the cabinet if they had off shore accounts and whilst three replied that they didn’t, the rest refused to answer. This is a story that isn’t going to go away.
I also saw yesterday a reappearance of a story from 2013 in which Boris Johnson suggested that the “super rich” are a “put upon minority and likened them to the homeless or gipsy travellers (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-says-super-rich-are-put-upon-minority-like-homeless-people-and-irish-travellers-8946661.html )
That many of our super rich citizens are feeling a bit singled out is perhaps clear. That it is making them look uncomfortable, if not actually fools, is also clear but their lack of understanding about this whole issue screams out of every page and every comment.
They are not discriminated against in society, they are not suffering because of their incredible wealth. They are not appearing in court to answer for their actions, they are not being called into tax offices or Jobcentreplus offices for interviews under caution to account for the whereabouts of their missing millions. They are getting on with their lives spending their money and finding modern ways of stashing it under the bed or in their sock.
I was accused yesterday of jealousy. Suggestions have bounced around twitter that somehow this situation has arisen because of petty, jealous, pinko lefties who can’t bear to see people “doing well for themselves” Once again they seem to have missed the point so let me make it clear for them.
Am I jealous of people who have loads of money? Bloody right I am! Not every day though. I reserve my jealousy for moments when I realise I haven’t got enough money for coal/electric/petrol. When I can’t afford to have my hair cut, when I want to take a trip and can’t afford it, when I want to buy my wee ones something nice and I just can’t manage to do so, when the car has broken down again and I just WISH I could afford a new one – not a Bentley or a Ferrari but a Skoda Octavia or actually a second hand Vauxhall Zafira would do very nicely thank you very much – a black one please. (My poor husband is a biker and takes no interest at all in cars. He has requested a black car when we can afford to choose and not simply buy what is available in the under £1000 column on Gumtree. This is after I brought home what I thought was a silver Picasso but which turned out in daylight to be a pale lilac!!!!) I do feel a tinge of jealousy and I am not poor. I’m quite often skint, and I am occasionally struggling with what I like to call “cash flow” problems but I am not poor.
I am sure many people are like me, a bit envious when we see the lottery winners on the news, when we are trying to balance our bank accounts after we have more month left at the end of our wages again.
But that is not what this outrage is about.
Britain has startling inequalities. When we consider the distribution of income, Britain is the second most unequal country in Europe. Wealth is similar – the richest 10% of households in Britain own 45% of the wealth in our country.
It is worth reminding people here that we still have food banks where people who cannot afford to eat are given food parcels, where people who can’t afford electricity are given food parcels which can be used without heating up. We have people who will be too ill to work who are going to see themselves getting less money in the future than they would have today. We see people who need a wheelchair to get around because they cannot walk very far without pain, or at all, have their motability car removed. We see our government cap benefits, champion a sanction regime which has been shown to disadvantage the most vulnerable in our society and increase the stigma and sense of shame felt by people on benefit and slap themselves on the back whilst they do it. These are people who will, in the vast majority of cases have paid their tax as it was due. Just like I do. My wages come in and PAYE ensures that I pay tax as and when it is due. We may look at our payslips and roll our eyes but we have no choice, tax avoidance is not available to us and so we get on and pay it.
The David Camerons of our society do not do that. They have people who help them to avoid tax. And let’s get it right – avoid tax that in a fair and equal world they would pay. They do that because they don’t want to pay their tax. Not for any other reason. Not for reasons of national security, or “defence against the dark arts” but because they simply don’t want to pay tax on their massive wealth. I don’t want to pay tax either but guess what…..I have no choice. And then, not satisfied with avoiding paying tax on all the money they have squirrelled away in off shore companies, off shore accounts, by being given gifts rather than inheriting wealth, they then complain when they are asked to pay a higher rate on the bit of their money that is available to tax. They get their pals in the treasury to reduce the higher rate of income tax even at the same time as they are talking about austerity being the only answer, even when they are cutting benefits and even when they are making mealy mouthed, lying comments about us “being all in this together”. They are like the mate in the pub, who pitches up and every one buys rounds and then just before it is his turn to buy the round, he drinks up and disappears off home. It pisses people off and that’s a bit what this row over the offshore shenanigans of the super rich feels like to the rest of us only massively worse. Because not only are they skipping off without meeting their responsibilities they are taking money off the poorest in society and cutting services whilst they do so.
This is not about being jealous of rich people, not about hating those who have money. I would really rather like to be rich to be honest. This is about the sense of entitlement that goes along with their massive wealth. It suggests that somehow they are entitled to have all this money and so are entitled to choose to avoid paying the tax that the rest of us have to pay with no choice. It’s about them avoiding taxes as though it doesn’t matter whilst cutting benefits, it’s about the fact that tax pays for services which they are busy cutting whilst wriggling out of paying their fair share. It is about rising inequalities as I outlined above but most of all, whilst it may not be illegal or criminal to stash your money offshore, creating companies, accounts or other ways of obfuscating wealth, land, the owners of the wealth, it absolutely is about dishonesty, deceit and unfairness. It is dishonest to pretend that we are all facing the effects of austerity, it is a form of deceit to talk about all tax being paid as due whilst knowing that you have deliberately placed wealth where it legally cannot be touched. It is unfair to pass laws which protect your own position. This goes to the heart of our government and it underlines the deceitful, dishonest and disconnected way they are ruling the UK.
And for those who shrug their shoulders and say well what do you expect, I expect better from people who seek election. It seems that they have forgotten that it is their job to serve our society rather than line their own pockets. It’s time we reminded them.