Perhaps the greatest surprise arising from the so-called “Paradise Papers” was the miniscule amount of public shock. The majority of those I’ve spoken to were not at all stunned that such large-scale tax avoidance was in train: though disgust was widespread, this behaviour from the avatars of the establishment was somehow expected.
We perhaps should be less nauseated and a bit angrier; the small business person who sets up a new shop, or creates a new product, doesn’t have access to the same facilities as those named in the Paradise Papers. He or she may have a better product, but can’t avoid costs like an Amazon or Apple.
Similarly, the majority of us can’t shift our paycheques to an account in the Cayman Islands to prevent HMRC getting their hands on it. The upper echelons of the well-off are protected by the same police, use the same roads, are often treated by the same NHS; yet, they have purposefully avoided paying their fair share. This does leave a question: who are the real contributors in our society?
I believe that most people pay more than enough tax; I certainly don’t believe that the regular working person should have to pay any more whether that’s on income, or in terms of council taxes. On the contrary, as we launch into yet another Budget we should be doing our utmost to ensure that taxation and spending are truly equitable.
Instead, we are likely to be told that there is very little money to support our hard-pressed public services. We may be told that if we want our nurses to be paid more, that all of us will have to pay more tax. We will be informed, again, that we have to live within our means. This homily to rectitude has very little to do with reality: our national debt has more than doubled since the Tories took power in 2010. The day to day necessities of Brexit, for which there is no apparent spending limit, means that the Civil Service is having to hire many more staff. It’s partially a question of priorities. It’s also a question of will. The “Paradise Papers” have made it clear that the money to ensure the future of our public services is there; the problem is that our government has allowed an edifice of avoidance to be constructed so that we cannot access it. The government has tried cajoling businesses and individuals by lowering rates: but if you have successfully avoided most taxes, why would just lowering rates persuade you to undo your arrangements?
There is also a question of justice: so long as there are financial instruments that allow tax to be avoided, we will continue to be a two-tier society. How can we have confidence in our government and in our laws if there are exemptions for an elite? These are taxing times; it’s time to prove that we are all in them together.