It has been said, that only two things in life are certain, death and taxes. But the fact is that ever since the invention of taxes, several millennia ago in ancient Mesopotamia, a whole caste of people have been dedicating their lives, generation after generation, century after century down through the ages, to figuring out more and more ingenious ways to avoid paying them.
By now, they’ve gotten pretty damn good at it indeed, and if you can afford to hire them there’s a very good chance they can save you a not-small-at –all fortune. They’re like the A-Team for rich fuckers, only easier to find.
So it should come as no surprise at all, that even in this age of austerity, when vital public services are being slashed like teenagers in a film with lots of roman numerals in its title, and VAT (which everyone pays at exactly the same rate, whether they earn minimum wage or take home the kind of pay that would make a premiership footballer turn green) is being increased to 20%, that rich fuckers are paying less tax than ever before. And sometimes it’s not even a case of the government saying that rich individuals and corporations don’t have to pay tax (although of course they do say that quite a lot), it’s more a case of them saying you should pay this much tax, and then turning a blind eye when they just...don’t!
It’s not even called tax evasion, which is illegal, it’s called tax avoidance and if you can afford to get away with it, it’s perfectly fine. It is estimated that there are currently £126 billion in unpaid taxes owed to the United Kingdom, and that in the next four years another £100 billion will be added to the pile.
Vodafone recently dodged a bill for £7 billion, HSBC Bank dodged £2 billion, Sir Phillip Green, who owns the Arcadia Group including high street brands like Top Shop, BHS and Dorothy Perkins and (incidentally) advised the ConDem coalition government on making cuts from public services, recently avoided paying £285 million in tax to the public coffers. The banking sector, which has received £850 million in bail-outs from the tax payer, is expected to pay just £2.5 million in tax. How has the government responded to this mega-swindle? By slashing the budget for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and putting thousands of tax inspectors, whose job it is to make sure people are paying what they should, out of work. So it really is not hard to see whose side this government (of multi-millionaires) is really on.
Fear not, for into the breach have stepped UK Uncut, and the Big Society Revenue and Customs department. For the past month or so, a widely distributed group, coordinated through Twitter and Facebook, have been taking on the corporate tax dodgers on their own battlefield of choice, the British high street.
They turn up in large groups equipped with placards, loud hailers and explanatory pamphlets, they gather at selected stores, occupy them, explain to all of their customers exactly how much of a bunch of scoundrels the people they are about to give their money to actually are. And in the best tradition of the civilly disobedient down the years, their tactics have been non-violent. Armed only with a bloody good argument, and the means of making sure they can hang around long enough to make it, (often by the simple expedient of superglue-ing themselves to something or occupying the roof) they have closed down some of the country’s biggest brand names flagship stores, in the busiest shopping weeks of the year. Today (Saturday 18th December) they have staged their biggest day of action to date, PAYDAY, with over 55 separate protests held in shopping centres and high streets up and down the country, occupying outlets of Top Shop, Vodafone, HSBC, Boots, M&S, Barclays, BHS and Miss Selfridge, and managing to close down more shops than the worst winter weather in 30 odd years.
As their protest has been entirely non-violent, you probably won’t have seen much reference to it on the news (great way to incentivise peaceful protest guys!), although bizarrely enough their most positive coverage currently seems to be coming from the Daily Mail (link, begrudgingly, included). I have also included a link to video from the Brighton protest today where Santa Claus himself was finally and forcibly detached from the window of BHS and arrested by some (extremely cold looking) police officers.
If you think it’s just a little bit sick, that tax on bread and milk is going up, and spending on services to help the poorest and most vulnerable in society is being hacked down, all on the pretext that we are broke, whilst a government of the rich is allowing the rich to avoid paying billions in tax, check it out and get involved.