Friday, 17 December 2010

Don't Do As I Do, Do As I Say.

Rarely do I read the People newspaper but I did for a review of the Sunday papers on Vaughan Roderick’s politics show on BBC Radio Wales recently. The paper caught my eye because of its coverage of a growing movement which has received scant attention from much of the mainstream media.

In response to the huge amounts of tax evasion and avoidance the UK's super-rich are getting away with, people have begun to join together under the banner of UK Uncut, targeting the businesses associated with tax-dodging. The flagship Top Shop store on Oxford Street, London, was closed down a few weeks ago by people chanting and blowing whistles in protest. Demonstrations were simultaneously held in Top Shop and other Arcadia Group stores in 20 other towns and cities. The boss of Top Shop and the Arcadia empire, Sir Philip Green, has irked the protestors by avoiding paying tax on more than £1 billion. He achieved this by giving his wife Tina, a resident of Monaco, a tax-free £1.2 billion dividend in 2005. The clever accounting that permitted this may have been legal, but it was far from ethical in my mind, or clearly in the minds of the protestors who flooded into the Oxford Street store in their droves.

Vodafone has also found itself on the receiving end of UK Uncut’s campaigning after it was alleged they were let off a £6bn tax bill by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) – allegations both organisations deny. Nevertheless, the finger of suspicion remain as similar protests to the one visited upon Top Shop stores have taken place at Vodafone outlets throughout the UK this year.

Tax evasion is a practice that has been going on for decades but it seems to be increasing with every year. Now it seems people are waking up to it at a time when the mantra of David Cameron that ‘we are all in this together’ becomes more hollow by the minute.

The Westminster’s inactivity when it come to tackling tax evasion or avoidance by the super-rich runs parallel to their crack-down on the welfare state, which provides a safety net against destitution for those who are unable to work. Rarely has there ever been a purer distillation of the maxim there is one rule for the rich and another for the poor.

In a paper produced by the PCS union,tax evasion is cited as being not less than £70 billion and possibly as high as £120 billion, per annum in the UK. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee claims £70 billion a year is being criminally evaded in tax, £25 billion avoided and £25 billion simply not paid at a time when tax inspectors are being made redundant in their droves at HMRC.

To put this astronomical sum into context, it has been estimated that benefit fraud costs the state £1.6 billion. You’d think the Government would set their sights on targeting the larger of the two sums if they were genuine about tackling the UK’s debt before giving way to other considerations. Are we really expected to believe Con/Dems are not driven by political ideology? Is it really a coincidence that the Tory party has always strived to protect the interests of the wealthy few? Their efforts to close off higher education to all but the wealthiest, helps to understand why people are beginning to get very, very angry.

When it comes to the millionaire-stuffed Con/Dem cabinet’s preaching about the need to balance the books and be in this together, they should really take a closer look at their own affairs. Chancellor George Osborne, along with other family beneficiaries, will neatly side-step an estimated £1.6 million in inheritance tax thanks to the trust fund, now believed to be worth more than £4 million, that his father set-up. He is not the only UK Government Cabinet figure the finger of blame has been pointed at. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, whose remit is to alleviate world poverty ironically, have also found to be engaging in some clever accounting to the detriment of UK tax revenues. As for Lord Ashcroft, the less said the better.

As history has shown with the Tories, it is a case of ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say.’ I hope more and more people join the peaceful protests being organised by UK Uncut because the Con/Dem Government and the large corporations they protect need to be embarrassed into doing the right thing.

Weather permitting, a demonstration is taking place at 10am tomorrow (Saturday) outside Top Shop in Queen Street, Cardiff. Protestors are urged to bring their own banners if possible. I hope to be there. There are rumoured to be similar events taking place in Swansea, Aberystwyth and Wrexham this Saturday for what is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year for large corporations like Top Shop. Let’s hit them where it hurts – in the pocket.

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