David Prosser: Down to the Treasury to close tax loopholes
Saturday 11 December 2010
Outlook: There is much to admire about the campaign group UKuncut, which has grown into a formidable protest movement within a few months of its launch. Its direct action has had a real impact, closing branches of Top Shop and Vodafone. It has also been completely peaceful. There will no doubt be further protests today, as the group's appeal to "citizen volunteers" gains support, and next Saturday it plans a nationwide day of action.
Just one criticism, however. What does UKuncut actually want? Its mission statement is "to make wealthy tax avoiders pay", but the group doesn't explain exactly what that means.
Most people find it distasteful when they discover large companies have saved millions, even billions, by organising their tax affairs in the most efficient manner possible. But the truth is that many of us do the same, in our own small way. Married couples put savings in the name of the spouse who pays the least tax. Families organise trusts to minimise inheritance tax bills. We claim donations to charity against tax, or we embrace tax breaks such as pension relief or childcare vouchers. Some of us even pay accountants to make sure we're avoiding as much tax as possible.
None of this is illegal. Some of it is positively encouraged by specific schemes and reliefs. It is still tax avoidance, just on a smaller scale. This is not to say UKuncut is misguided in targeting corporates that appear to have avoided more tax than most. But if it expects big business to start paying more tax than it needs to, it will be sorely disappointed. The onus is on the Treasury to close the loopholes.
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