Sir James Dyson, Mike Ashley and the Coates family enjoyed momentary respite yesterday after appearing in the top 50 taxpayers list.
Following a few turbulent weeks in which prominent Brexiteer Dyson shafted Britain by moving his company’s headquarters to Singapore and Sports Direct owner Ashley shafted the city of Newcastle by skirting on transfer funds again the beleaguered billionaires enjoyed a moment in the sun as part of a cohort of 50 top tax-paying people who contribute nearly £2 billion year to the treasury’s coffers.
As Robert Watts, compiler of the Tax List and the Rich List, said, in an age of the Panama Papers, Paradise Papers and other high-profile scandals many people now have the impression that “none of Britain’s wealthy elite contribute a penny to our public finances”. But some do, and surely we owe them a pat on the back for their generosity?
Well, before we rush to glad-hand our wealthy elite, let us pause for perspective.
For the first time last year the poorest 10 per cent of people in Britain paid a higher proportion of their income in tax than the richest 10 per cent.
Despite the fortunes of the world’s richest people rising by a staggering £2 billion a day (while the wealth of the poorest dwindled by 11 per cent) those at the bottom are still contributing more even though they stand to benefit the least.
That’s because tax avoidance and tax evasion among the wealthiest in society continues to plague Britain. In most years we lose just as much to tax avoidance as we gain from the richest people in society contributing to HMRC. And that should bring shame on the people participating in such schemes.
Think of it this way.
If you polled the top 50 tax paying people on your street and discovered that, while most people contributed their fair amount, a few households aren’t contributing anything at all, you wouldn’t rush to thank all those who do pay – you would be asking serious questions about those who don’t pay yet still enjoy all the benefits of living in (and earning from) the UK regardless.
Like Richard Branson, for example, who brags about being a tax exile despite generating most of his cash from the UK. His health company is taking billions of pounds from the tax-funded NHS and guess what – pays nothing back into the country’s coffers in return.
Or how about JCB tycoon Lord Anthony Bamford? Boris Johnson was paid £10,000 to make a Brexit speech in front of their famed diggers last week, but did he know their industrialist chairman had channelled more than half a billion pounds through an obscure company that isn’t required to file financial accounts?
And I could go on, but perhaps to finish on a note of caution ahead of Britain’s impending divorce from the EU. In a campaign that was driven by several prominent tax-dodging figures, namely in the media, we should be asking questions over why the decision to have a referendum on our membership clashed so accurately with the European Union’s move to end tax avoiding practices within its member states.
Coincidence? I think not. We know too much about the cosy relationship between politicians and the well-off to believe that.