Alison has been teaching for nearly eight years at her local comprehensive school, providing invaluable life skills and curricular knowledge to her pupils. She teaches around seven hours a day but arrives home to piles of endless mock paper exams, unmarked homework, and lessons that need to be planned. She doesn’t receive pay for this out of hours work, in contrast to some other professions, but she readily puts in the time and dedication for the betterment of her students. In recent years, however, she has seen living costs rise with inflation and yet her pay has remained frozen; thus, when considering the increasing levels of inflation, she is ostensibly receiving less in her pocket.
For five years she was told to grin and bear it, as supposedly the recession hit everyone, and cuts had to be made through a brutal austerity programme. However, with class numbers rising in conflation with workload and living costs increasing, such work had understandably taken its toll and she, like many others, felt the need for her discontented voice to be heard. Recently, Alison took to the streets in solidarity with thousands of other teachers, firemen, and other public sector workers demanding for some sort of revision to be considered on the recent debilitating changes made to pay and pensions. Now, Alison isn’t a real person; I made up her character, but she is certainly vicariously represented by those who did decide to withdraw their labour last Thursday as a stand against vast crippling cuts galvanised by a coalition government that they didn’t elect.
…driven by profit, tip-toe around HMRC…
On that same day, on the opposite side of the social and political spectrum, news arose that the rock and roll, working class heroes of Sheffield, Arctic Monkeys, had been part of a tax avoidance scheme called Liberty. Tax avoidance isn’t exactly a novel exploit; Google, Starbucks and Gary Barlow, amongst a list of others who are yet to be uncovered, have or currently do avoid paying tax through legal loopholes and a vanguard of highly qualified accountants. It is a little more expected but nevertheless equally antagonizing, that corporations like Google and Starbucks, driven by profit, tip-toe around HMRC. However, a band that cultivated themselves with an inherently working class image and wrote observational lyrics about the many drunken escapades in High Green – who then hoard money overseas – is not only shrouded with hypocrisy, but detrimental to their demographic support. Many will argue that the band moved away from their Northern, industrial roots two albums ago; others will turn a blind eye and eat up the legal but indefensible premise of tax avoidance.
The bottom line is this; whether they have lost touch with their cultural roots or not, Arctic Monkeys’ tax avoidance scandal vastly constitutes to the very reason why people like Alison had to take to the streets with their placards reading ‘NO MORE CUTS!’. Regardless of your stance on the government’s position on teacher’s pay and pensions, or the coalition’s economic programme, those like Arctic Monkeys who avoid taxes are all contributing to the lack of government funding for the education system, and perhaps more pertinently, an NHS that is steering into the unyielding realms of privatisation. Of course, supporters of the establishment will argue (somewhat myopically) that those on such high incomes are unlikely to use public services so why should they pay for services that don’t directly benefit them? Well, Arctic Monkeys grew up on state-funded education, and state-funded healthcare. More importantly, most of their fans do or almost definitely have in some point in their lives depended upon state-funded services, and such fans have provided Alex and the band’s large wealth. To say this is somewhat a stab in the back to their diligent fans is understating the point.
…the punitive nature of the government’s crackdown on ‘benefits Britain’ is preponderant…
The crucial issue is that the Arctic Monkeys tax avoidance news story is a small part of a vast problem that needs to be challenged. The Welfare state has been scrutinised and attacked by the right-wing media and their zealots to the point where the government backed back-to-work scheme, Atos, has led to the suffering of thousands of disabled people distressed over their disability pay outs which had been recklessly delayed. Whilst figures on how many deaths Atos has actually been responsible for (which are currently circulating social media) are undeniably dubious, the punitive nature of the government’s crackdown on ‘benefits Britain’ is preponderant. Arctic Monkeys, amongst others who enlist themselves on tax avoidance schemes, won’t be accountable for such punitive measures, because they’re just exploiting legal loopholes; a clear implication that the establishment works in a top-down, inequitable system. HMRC claims that it is uprooting and ruthlessly targeting tax avoidance schemes, but just as they uncover one, more will arise and adapt in more cryptic, but, of course, legal means.
It is clear that the stigma around ‘Benefits Britain’ and the ‘tax-avoiding rich’ is not only deeply unbalanced, but immensely disproportionate in terms of estimated cost. Revenue & Customs (HMRC) said the gap between tax owed and tax paid had increased by £1bn in the years 2011-12, up from £34bn the previous year. In stark contrast, to what the latest estimates from DWP (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/325828/proposed-first-release-fraud-error-july-2014.pdf) show; that £3,300 million of benefit was overpaid due to claimant error, fraud or official error in 2013/2014, and the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) estimates £900 million of that could be recovered.
…people of Britain, like Alison, don’t need another reason to be disillusioned with the government’s priorities…
Statistics can be disputed, and many argue that HMRC subjectively underestimate the amount of money lost through tax avoidance. However, it is clear what is comparatively the bigger problem, and yet it is problem that suffers little stigma or challenge precisely because it is done through legal methods. The working people of Britain, like Alison, don’t need another reason to be disillusioned with the government’s priorities or even worse, politics as a whole. It is clear that the government desperately needs to do more to close down legal loopholes; otherwise they’re in infinite danger in affirming the notion that austerity is a programme restricted to the poor and that those living outside the regulations of HMRC still aren’t quite sure what austerity is, and more discouragingly, the establishment doesn’t care.