Offshore assets help the rich, but we all benefit from taxation
Conservatives like to talk about personal responsibility, team spirit and ‘paying in to the system’ as the price of government support in hard times.
But when you dig a little, all this ‘big society’ talk conceals a dog-eat-dog, ‘help yourself’ conviction that the world is one big market, where everyone competes to maximise their own wealth.
News that Home Secretary and former venture capitalist Amber Rudd was a director of two offshore companies registered in the Bahamas between 1998 and 2000 is a case in point.
Rudd’s defenders will say she broke no laws, and there’s no evidence that she did. (The same was said about David Cameron when his father’s offshore assets were revealed – and when Amber Rudd sprang to his defence.) But not all bad behaviour is illegal.
The fact remains there is only one reason people have assets based in an offshore tax haven, and that’s to pay less tax.
This means enjoying the benefits of taxpayers’ money without paying in your fair share.
‘Fair according to whom?’ you might ask, and it’s a good question. A sense of fairness can often be relative. Someone who works their way into a higher tax bracket might feel penalised for their success, while a shop assistant will resent how little Google pays into the treasury.
But the idea of having tax brackets at all is an overlooked victory for Left-wing ideas about equality and social justice – that the better off pay more, and the money is used to benefit the poorest, along with everyone else.
Put simply, when Amber Rudd walks down the street in London, or in her constituency of Hastings and Rye, she is using roads built with taxpayers’ money.
She does so protected by a publicly-funded police force, with the security of a publicly-funded health service, breathing air regulated through publicly levied green taxes, tossing her water bottle into council-run waste and recycling services, as she passes schools, hospitals, parks and town centres paid for with public money.
Saying, as is often said, that ‘anyone would try to pay less tax if they could’ suggests a pathetic struggle between the wealthy and the state, as if people earning over £150,000 a year will notice any material difference in their lives paying 45p in the pound.
It’s also insulting to people earning minimum wage who don’t have the option of ‘creative accounting’ or moving their money offshore.
(If public outrage over Google, Amazon and the Panama Papers mean tax dodgers are held in at least the same contempt as welfare cheats, it would be a massive cultural improvement.)
But this ‘anyone would do it’ attitude also lacks any sense of civic responsibility about building a decent society.
It may be too much to expect people adopt Irving Berlin’s cheerful attitude towards paying his income tax, especially when public money is so often wasted.
But it couldn’t hurt to remind people how they benefit from paying taxes, and what it means to be a member of society – as a first step towards creating a better one.
Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.