Monday, 2 March 2015
"In three decades Britain has quick-marched backwards in time by about 150 years".
EVERYBODY’S doing it, doing it, doing it, cheating the tax system and screwing it, screwing it — at least that’s what some fat cat tax avoiders reckon.
It’s not true of course, because the majority of British citizens have no ability whatsoever to influence the amount of tax they pay. They work hard for a living, get a fixed salary and have their income tax deducted without ever seeing the Queen’s face on the notes HMRC take.
When this columnist made his first attempts at writing it wasn’t just a very pleasant surprise that those efforts were deemed worthy of publication but that some people were also prepared to pay for them.
We are not talking celebrity columnist rates here but, even so, the very first thing to be done when the shock wore off was to go straight down to the tax office in Penrith (now closed) to find out how to pay income tax as a self-employed person.
I also elected to pay national insurance because I have always been a law-abiding citizen and because, even though the amounts are very small, I thought it was the right thing to do, and I am also a fool.
Every January I go through the tedious and stressful process of self-assessment under the highly publicised threat that if I am late there will be an automatic penalty of £100, and if I get it wrong they, the HMRC hit-men, will be coming for me because, as they like to remind me, we know where you live.
In effect all the writing I do during November, December and January is for the government, so those readers who think my attacks on the government and politicians are particularly vindictive during those months now know why.
Meanwhile, HSBC bank has published an apology to customers and staff for setting up a Swiss branch specifically to help more than a thousand of its richest clients avoid paying UK tax. I am a long-standing customer of HSBC and I do not accept its empty apology just as I never accepted meaningless apologies from students when I was teaching simply because the deputy head said I had to and also because the kids thought it was the easy option to apologise and walk away smirking.
Sir believed in justice then just as he does now. Laws and rules, including tax rules, should be fair and just and apply to everyone equally, no matter who they are or how rich or famous they are, which is something our establishment seems to have lost sight of.
This whole tax avoidance thing is not really the issue. It is just a symptom of a much bigger problem which has infected and is corrupting society. In three decades Britain has quick-marched backwards in time by about 150 years.
The world that my grandfather and Winston Churchill were both born into within a few years of each other is, in many respects, back after a brief period of dormancy in the 1960s and 70s.
For 30 years we have praised, admired and looked up to the “wealth makers” as David Cameron likes to call them and believed they deserved every hard-earned million pounds they added to their vast fortunes. Grateful governments knighted them and stuck them in the House of Lords and nodded when The Sun wrote that it was perfectly understandable when they skipped the country to avoid paying tax to those horrible Labour governments.
In worshipping mammon we have succeeded in breeding a new “upper” class of people including thousands of vastly overpaid but talentless celebs, very mediocre soccer players and “entrepreneurs”, some who have turned out to be little more than tax-cheating gangsters. Unlike the old upper class this bunch have no sense of duty or responsibility. They think only of themselves, their wealth and their importance and we have allowed this nouveau riche to think they are the special ones who can do whatever they like.
It is not entirely their fault. In a sense it is ours because our governments, whom we are supposed to control, have sucked up to business and in doing so have trodden on the rights and bargaining powers of workers, which has all helped create this view that some people are above the law and that paying tax is for mugs and little people.
Well, I’m a mug but I’m a mug in whom revolution burns. I’d make these leeches dig ditches for a couple of years, on the minimum wage, of course, and see how they like joining in the way lots of “mugs” don’t even earn enough to pay tax.
Brian Nicholls (Cumberland & Westmorland Herald)