It is said that only two things in life are certain; Death and Taxes, although Ashcroft Incorporated is working on both.
Death is only slightly older than taxes, since humans have a rather logarithmic view of time. Benefits, on the other hand, are much newer than both, being only a few generations old. But it is taxes that get my (and apparently the uk media’s) attention today.
The reason people (rightly) get so cross about both tax evasion and benefit fraud is that they are both stealing from you. Not some crazy tense “you” that actually means aunt Mavis, but you, reading this. And me. And aunt Mavis. Both crimes are stealing from everyone you meet on the street, with the small exception of the tourists. But are they similar in any other way? They are committed in very differing circumstances, that’s for sure.
Tax dodging, first, is a major cost to the public purse. The Grauniad’s excellent Tax Gap series highlighted the massive scale of the problem, although they go all scientific when you try and ask how big the gap is – no one knows. What’s more, it is absolutely unjustifiable; in a world where economies on a local, national and global scale are monitored, supported and maintained by governments, where legislatures constantly work to thwart criminal minds finding ‘legal’ wheezes, and where police tirelessly hunt criminals in order to create the conditions where you can actually make a profit, to not feed back into the maintenance of that system is arrogant, stupid and unjust. Tax dodging is something only the very wealthy can afford to do, since it takes either lots of time or accountants (or both) to wriggle out of your environmental liabilities, and as such is restricted to the ‘Kings’ of this world; those so far above median earnings that money has started to become power.
Benefit cheats are committing a very similar crime, since they are stealing money from health, education, defence of the realm, too. But just as the Americans have first and second degree murder, so the benefit cheat’s crime is the lesser to the tax dodgers. Benefit fraud is driven by poverty, not greed, in the same way that the first degree murderers motivation (greed, jealousy, politics, bordom) is much more sinister than the second degree murderer (heat of passion.) It is the crime of paupers, and yet is treated with at least the same vitriol by the press as Tax dodging, the crime of Kings.
Which is worse is debatable (although I hope the author’s opinion is clear.) The Tories were big on tackling the paupers’ crime in their manifesto. The Lib Dems were big on closing the loopholes of Kings. So, in the spirit of compromise, this Coalition Government is big on both. Today at ldconf, Danny Alexander announced the coalition’s plans for an extra £900 million for HMRC, aiming to take five times as many tax dodgers to court. By 2015 that will raise £7 Billion extra revenue every year. That’s £6.1 Billion less cuts, for those keeping score; and £6.1 Billion that was ours, everyone’s, by rights.
How’s that for a party of the many, Labour?