Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Tax avoiders` excuses must be de-bunked

The view that "if half the energy devoted to rooting out so-called benefit cheats was switched to tackling tax-dodging companies", society would be "more just" is widely held. However, Cameron`s recent failure to insist on Gary Barlow`s return of hIs OBE is sending out the message that there is no disgrace in tax avoidance, not even when caught, cheating the Treasury of millions; the only punishment is paying  what you should have paid in the first place! Tightening the laws will help, but lawyers and accountants will inevitably find new loopholes; only when public humiliation is the accepted punishment for those who partake in tax avoidance, whether they be the CEOs of large businesses or popular sports people and entertainers, can there be any realistic hope of curtailing the practice.
   Another excuse the tax avoiders use is that the vast majority of people only pay tax, because they have no alternative, when the truth is that millions pay because it`s fair; taxation gives the country its free education and health services, it helps the less fortunate, it provides the country and its population with security, and lots more. In fact, it provides the very people who avoid paying their fair share with most of their reasons for living here. 
    Tax avoiders even claim their practice is akin to many in society having tax-free savings accounts. As Simon Read in the Independent recently wrote, there is a "world of difference between tax loopholes and legitimate, government- backed schemes" like Isas.(It`s the lengths to which the rich go, and the loopholes thay find, that makes their tax avoidance stink,17/05/14) The latter were devised to encourage savings at a time when inflation was soaring, and the amount of money in circulation had to be restricted. Their recent expansion has less to do with taxation and more with winning electoral support from Tory waverers.
    However, Read wrongly  asserted that the tax experts who spot the loopholes are the ones who should "take the brunt of the blame" for tax avoidance,and there are two reasons for this view being incorrect:     
     One is that these so-called "experts" are invited by governments to sit on Treasury committees discussing tax laws, and so influence the framing of the legislation; if governments stopped inviting them, finding the inevitable loopholes would be more problematic.
      Secondly, no-one forces rich individuals to take accountants` advice.They know exactly why taxation has to be levied in a civilised country, and choose deliberately not to pay their fair share, despite knowing, as we all do, of such things as the NHS being badly in need of extra funding, state schools suffering financially, Sure Start centres being closed and care workers being paid pittance. That`s why honours previously awarded need to be taken back from all tax avoiders and evaders! The excuse that tax avoidance and the reasons for the honour are separate, and should be treated as such, is plain nonsense!
     Rumours abound,despite injunctions and so forth, about the tax preferences of sports stars. Should the likes of Farah and Hamilton still represent Britain if they choose to change their main place of residency away from Britain, which is where they spent their formative years, in order to pay less tax to our Treasury? Should footballers who invest in tax avoiding schemes, so as to contribute less of their huge wealth to the taxman, be allowed to represent their British countries? In the 18th century Americans, being forced by the British government to pay taxes despite having no MPs speaking on their behalf, rebelled, claiming "No taxation without representation". Now, with tax avoidance so widespread it has been described as an "industry" by Margaret Hodge, is it not time to reverse the slogan? "No representation without taxation" seems pretty fair to me.
       Until tax avoiders are publicly disgraced, with as much opprobrium as possible, the problem will persist, the Treasury will be denied billions every year, and essential services will be underfunded. Instead of the usual rhetoric from politicians, like "morally repugnant" and "smell the coffee", some transparency from them on their own tax details would be welcomed. The trouble is Miliband`s silence on the subject of Cameron promising, and failing of course, to disclose his own tax details as far  back as April 2012 is deafening! Failure to score political points on this issue suggests Labour`s disclosures would be too embarrassing! 

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