i Editor's Letter: Rather than shame those who avoid tax, perhaps we should celebrate the ones who pay it


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The Independent Online


We should celebrate our biggest taxpayers. My heart was lifted this week by a feature in one of i’s sister titles (the London Evening Standard) about rich Brits who pay their taxes. So what, one might ask? They jolly well should do.

The value of the exercise, though, is in countering the narrative that the rich always dodge their dues to society. Not every leading businessman and pop musician secretes their assets offshore. Take the Phones4U founder John Caudwell, estimated wealth £1.5bn, who believes he is Britain’s biggest individual taxpayer, contributing more than £250m to the Exchequer since 2008. He wants tax avoiders to be named and shamed, adding: “Where the country’s indebtedness is so colossal and the budget deficit is so huge, there is a moral obligation on people to pay their fair and reasonable dues.”

Paying a lot of tax is patriotic. JK Rowling, whose wealth is estimated at £570m and who funded a new multiple sclerosis research centre in memory of her mother, has commented that she is “indebted to the British welfare state” because “when my life hit rock bottom, that safety net was there to break the fall. It would have been contemptible to scarper to the West Indies at the first sign of a royalty cheque.”

South Korea rewards those who cough up with “Exemplary Taxpayer” status. Perhaps it’s time we did the same. HMRC’s cat-and-mouse game with tax lawyers will never suffice, and shame isn’t deterrent enough – some people are beyond it. So let’s try pride. Open a British Hall of Tax in grand premises: the public can walk through galleries past portraits of the most notable supporters of HMRC, inspiring words from them, what their money helped to buy – a  celebration of wealth put to our social benefit. An anteroom could, of course, catalogue great British tax avoiders and their accountants.


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