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Rein in the tax dodgers!

Osborne the tax dodger

Campaigners have been calling for the government to deal with tax dodgers for years - this protest was from 2010 to coincide with Chancellor George Osborne's budget announcement. 38 Degrees under a Creative Commons Licence

At this time of year it’s hard to miss the posters everywhere about tax. Every morning at the station I walk past one telling me how ‘I did my tax return early and gained inner peace’. And waiting at my local bus stop, I am overlooked by a big-brother eye with the message ‘we’re closing the net on tax dodgers’.

Having done my own tax return online a few months ago, I suppose I can bask in my ‘inner peace’. But seriously, I am one of those people who think it’s important to pay tax. Many years ago I was part of a church committee that drew up a paper on the relationship between tax and the Common Good – a view that we all have a responsibility towards one another and to our wider society, especially where it seeks to protect those who are vulnerable, poor or who need help. This is what tax is for. Spent well, it pays for schools, hospitals, the protection of the vulnerable. In other words, it provides funds for the necessary basis of a decent society.

When I started working at Christian Aid, I began to see how this works – or doesn’t – for developing countries. We all know about aid, but really, effective tax collection is one of the most successful methods of raising finance for tackling poverty. It helps governments reduce their reliance on aid and leads to more accountable governance as citizens demand to know how tax revenue is spent – in turn fostering greater transparency and helping to tackle corruption. It’s a long chain, but it’s a model of self-reliance that is better than reliance on the vagaries of aid or charity.  

But you don’t have to be a tax fan to feel an increasing sense of outrage as revelation after revelation shows company after company finding ways to dodge tax. As a result, governments at home and abroad are deprived of much-needed finance which could be used to tackle poverty. To add insult to injury – and despite the words of politicians across parties decrying tax dodging – the UK tax system is so full of loopholes that much of the time it isn’t even illegal.

In all my years of campaigning for social change, I’ve never come across an issue that has the capacity to unite different sectors of society like this – from small-business owners to trade unionists, pensioners to my nine-year-old daughter, people of faith and atheists and the overwhelming majority of voters of every political party all share that sense that this isn’t right. The fact that it’s legal doesn’t make us feel any better.  

The political moment could not be better to channel this tide of opinion in to legislative change. Which is why 16 organizations – including Christian Aid, NUS, The Equality Trust, Oxfam, ActionAid and Health Poverty Action – have banded together to launch a campaign today – 100 days before the general election – for a Tax Dodging Bill to rein in the most egregious tax loopholes, and raise billions for the people of Britain and developing countries.

As the electioneering goes into overdrive, now is the time to contact your candidates, ask questions at hustings and share details about the campaign on social media, so that we can create a moral mandate for whoever forms the next government to listen to the public and do what’s right.

Maybe one day the posters will say: ‘I found inner peace when I persuaded the government to get the major corporations to stop tax dodging’. And as for the message on the bus stop – it will simply say: ‘We got them – thanks for your help.’ 

Christine Allen is Director of Policy and Public Affairs for Christian Aid. To join the Tax Dodging Bill campaign, visit www.taxdodgingbill.org.uk

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