These companies are parasites.
What happens in Denmark is not usually top of the UK news agenda. But today one decision by our Scandinavian cousins has hit our website headlines, and has been attracting much approving comment on social media.
Its government has decided that companies based in tax havens will not be eligible for future support payments to help them survive the coronavirus pandemic. They followed a similar decision by the Polish government earlier this month.
The Danes have answered very firmly in the negative the question: if you are a parasite that has been taking profits out and not paying your way in the good times, then should you be entitled to help now?
The firms based in tax havens, with complex “tax-efficient”, structures – ranging from water suppliers and nursing home chains to coffeee shops and finance firms — are companies relying for their profits on infrastructure that we all pay for, on the labour of their workers, on customers dependent on hospitals, schools and policing.
Amazon, which I often describe as the Great Parasite, is the obvious case study here: on the road outside your house today there was almost certainly a van carrying parcels for Amazon and you contributed to the cost of that road. Amazon did not.
The same argument applies to certain coffee shops.
Of course, we have to look after the workers of these companies. The vast majority will be low paid and many may have been in the ironic situation of paying a higher percentage of tax on their income than the company they worked for.
But that’s an argument for looking after them, rather than their employers – as Green MP Caroline Lucas said at the start of this crisis, we need to protect incomes rather than wages or profits.
In the immediate future that might mean we have to use the government’s scheme to pay 80% of the staff’s wages and to direct that money via the company.
But what we need to be looking towards is a Universal Basic Income – ensuring that no one is left destitute, no one left to try to survive on 80% of already poverty pay – in the coronavirus crisis. A Rescue Basic Income could be a way towards that.
Nicola Sturgeon has supported the idea of denying rescue funds to firms based in tax havens “in principle” and I would hope that it is something that all opposition parties could unite around when Parliament gets properly under way this week.
This is not just a choice to direct money to where it is really needed and deserved.
It also starts to map out the kind of economy we want to see emerge from this crisis. We cannot, should not want to, go back to the business-as-usual of 2020. We need to support the companies that will provide a more economically and environmentally sustainable future for us all.
Every part of society, every company, has to contribute to that more resilient future. As I’ve written elsewhere, it was the tax-dodgers, the low-paying companies relying on zero-hours contracts, that created a society that was lacking in resilience, that actively opened the door to coronavirus, and left us open to other threats.
The actions that we take now will decide the path we take out of this crisis. According to a recent poll most people don’t want to go back to the way things were before.
If we want our society to reflect the strong values like community and empathy that have emerged during this crisis, we need to act even in the middle of the crisis to turn our economy in the right direction.
Natalie Bennett is a member of the House of Lords and a former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales
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