One woman protest
January 2, 2011
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Blog haitus – been working (I know, shocker), away and ill. Before the second of these three I went on a little one-woman consciousness-raising trip. You may have heard of UK Uncut, a group dedicated to protesting at the range of cuts meted out by the government and the largely ideological motivation behind the axe. Recently they’ve been getting coverage for targeting companies and individuals who exploit loopholes in the UK tax system to avoid paying huge amounts of tax.
UK Uncut don’t do marches. They do non-violent occupations and information spreading, they do fun little events to raise awareness and capture people’s imaginations and engage them. They are clever, witty and motivated. And they even seem to have the Daily Mail behind them.
For various reasons I couldn’t go to the December 18th Oxford Street protests at TopShop and Vodafone, so I did a little bit myself. I printed out a news article about concern over Philip Green’s personal tax avoidance and some leaflets, and left them blue-tac’ed to the walls in changing rooms in Lewisham BHS and Wallis, and Oxford Street Dorothy Perkins and BHS. All very simple – you just go in with clothes, stick up the stuff and leave. I had been a bit concerned someone might spot the protest before I was out and away but the threat of snow meant there were hardly any people about at lunchtime, which meant hardly any staff on the changing rooms. Good for letting the protest stay as long as possible, probably less good for maximising the number of people who saw it… It’s just one person doing something, but if lots of individuals do something, it all mounts up.
Why am I bothering? Because mass corporate tax avoidance costs the country billions. And right now, we don’t have billions to spare. You can argue we all shave our tax by claiming back expenses and paying pensions in the most tax efficient way, but there is a massive difference between this and putting ownership of your business in the hands of your tax exile wife (resulting in no tax due on your £1.2bn dividend) or creating shell companies to funnel funds which can only survive because of entire departments of tax experts overseeing such complicated arrangements. It’s all legal, but such efforts show a profound moral disregard for the country in which such companies do their business.
What HMRC needs is more, not fewer, staff, and better remuneration and support to help them keep up with the highly paid and rewarded tax experts in large corporations and accountancy firms who exploit loopholes faster than the HMRC can keep up – but that’s clearly not going to happen when the prevailing view seems to be to write off past debts and keep it all matey. Who’s in it together, exactly?