I wish that I could write that the revelations published this weekend about the “Panama Papers” were shocking.
I wish that I still had the capacity to be shocked by the rampant advance of tax avoidance by a wealthy, out-of-touch and greedy global elite.
Instead, I read – disappointed but not surprised – about the actions of millionaires and billionaires who think that they shouldn’t pay the same tax as the rest of us. Think they shouldn’t contribute to the same public services as the rest of us. Think that their personal advancement – feathering their nests with sums that no-one could ever reasonably spend in a dozen lifetimes – matters more than the societies in which they live.
These people want to live in our country and others like it, but they expect everyone else to pick up the tab for the schools, hospitals, police and other services that every nation needs but someone has to pay for.
Last week I was at a conference on sovereign debt. If the impact of tax avoidance is felt acutely in countries like the UK, then it is felt even more strongly in those countries with far fewer resources.
Because at a time of government cuts and austerity, tax avoidance is a double whammy – removing cash from the economy and causing even greater cuts to public services. Or as the comedian Frankie Boyle said a few years ago: “If you’re rich, don’t look at it as tax avoidance, look at it as a children’s hospital buying you a pool table.”
Tax avoidance on this scale is simply the poorest paying the price for the grubby venality of the rich. Governments around the world now need to develop concrete and workable solutions to root out tax avoidance and crack down on tax havens. David Cameron has planned a summit in May, but warm words will be insufficient.
What is needed is immediate and comprehensive action from HMRC. And for the proceeds of funds recovered from tax avoidance schemes to be ploughed back into our schools, our hospitals and our communities – rather than into the pockets of a wealthy establishment.