A visit from Albert apart, I haven’t set eyes on my fellow chicken-keepers for over a week now. I presume that they and the hens are still in the land of the living. I am slowly returning to it and, I have to admit, am beginning to miss both. I guess we old codgers got it right, keep busy and surround yourself with mates. Hopefully I’ll soon be back amongst them, especially if England win tonight!
But meantime I have come closer to realising just how divided our society has become. Today’s Guardian describes it as ‘Breadline Britain’ and devotes a lot of column inches to describing the plight of millions of hard-working families living just one bill away from financial disaster. Even those with a regular job are struggling to make ends meet, many reach the end of each month with empty pockets and even emptier stomachs.
Those who are unemployed, invariably through no fault of their own, are trapped in a downward spiral of despair. The level of debt is rocketing and the bailiffs are everywhere, threatening and bullying with impunity. The latest estimate is that over 7 million are now seriosly affected by the austerity measures, which despite all the evidence to the contrary, are still being pursued by the Old Etonians.
All of which is bad enough, but the reason for the sense of bitter resentment to be found everywhere is the fact that the vast majority of wealthy people pay as little as 1 per cent income tax, yes, 1 per cent. The flourishing tax avoidance industry is now costing the country billions of pounds, far more than the gains resulting from every cut applied so far.
In March George Osborne used the Budget to condemn aggressive tax avoidance as “morally repugnant”. Yet on the following day Roy Lyness, of Peak Performance Accountants, assured his clients ; “We’re delighted to inform you that most of the powerful tax-saving opportunities have survived unscathed”.
One of the most popular is a scheme know as K2. It works by transferring salaries into a Jersey-based trust, which lends investors back the money. As the loan can technically be recalled, it is not subject to income tax. One of the many using this scheme is comedan Jimmy Carr. He pays himself £100,000 in salary and puts £3.3 million through the scheme. The result is a bonanza, virtually no tax. Carr’s lawyers point out that the scheme is not illegal. Moral? Thats another matter altogether. No wonder he comes across on stage as a perpetually amused man.
A reporter from The Times, posing as an IT consultant earning £280,000 per year, contacted a number of tax avoidance specialists offering schemes to people on high salaries. Mr Lyness promised that K2 could slash a hypothetical tax bill of £127,000 to a personal rate of only 1.25 per cent. Every company offered similar schemes.
Graham Aaronson, QC, has proposed new rules for the government to combat aggressive, albeit legal, tax schemes such as K2. He says that people ask him how much tax he pays. His response is 50 per cent and the very act of mouthing it makes his “blood boil” at the thought of so many paying less than 3 per cent because of “some artificial scheme”.
And the ranks of the tax-dodgers are not comprised solely of celebrites such as Mr Carr. Officials at the Inland Revenue confirm that many banks now use complex offshore loans to help their senior staff shelter millions of pounds, earned in bonuses and salaries, from tax liabilities.
Scandal is an inadequate word for what is being permitted by this government, which is happy to face up to the wrath of the masses but afraid to take on it’s friends. We can only view it with contempt. It claims that we are in this together, a phrase used by Rebekah Brooks in a text to our dear leader. We must certainly are not.
But the government comprises politicians and we have no illusions about them. What is more shocking is the revelation that even those who brighten our evenings with their men-o-the-people humour are equally dismissive of the plight of those who pay their inflated salaries!
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES! Michael Gove, talking to a school class last week, “There’s a whole generation who can’t do basic maths”. Schoolboy in audience “And you’re running the country!”