Scrounging and bullying

More stories are swirling around about how big companies avoid paying big tax bills. My first response, perhaps small-mindedly, is to wonder if my own conscience is violated.  I can avoid Starbucks for the apparently conscientious Costa, and my mobile provider isn’t Vodafone, but if Amazon and Ikea are also in on the scams, where can I go for my books and bookshelves? These are bewildering times.

It’s probably more bewildering if you’re physically or mentally incapacitated and unable to work and you don’t know if you’re still going to get help to pay the rent. In his speech to the Conservative Party conference earlier this month, the only financial commitment to reducing the UK’s deficit that Chancellor George Osborne was prepared to make was a further £10 billion cut in benefits. He bravely declared that the budget would not be balanced “on the wallets of the rich.”

Of course there are structural problems and philosophical weaknesses in our benefits system, on top of the fact that figures from a few years ago suggests that benefit fraud costs the country £900 million a year. That’s about £15 each, if you’re a UK citizen. But leaked government figures estimate that tax evasion (as opposed to the legal tax avoidance linked above) costs us anywhere between £97 billion and £150 billion a year: between 8% and 12% of what we produce, or £1,600 to £2,500 per person, per year.

That the government is doing little about the massive fraud and much about the far smaller one suggests that it doesn’t have the brains or the balls to deal with the real problem. In other words, it is behaving like a bully.