Monday, 25 June 2012

To Jimmy Carr with sympathy

I have a lot of sympathy for Jimmy Carr. Identified by The Times newspaper last week for his decision to use a tax avoidance scheme resulting in allegedly reducing his tax bill to around one percent.

He has been condemned in the media for his lack of morality and ethicality. The UK Prime Minister has even condemned his use of a tax avoidance scheme as morally wrong.

So why do I have sympathy for him? In large part because I resent the high amount of tax I have to pay. Watching Channel 4’s 8 Out of 10 Cats show this week I was struck by one comedian commenting on the NHS and other ‘worthwhile’ government bodies having to lay off staff because ... some people ... don’t pay enough tax. It is an argument that I find questionable.

The UK government, my government, spends billions of the revenue they get each year on activities that millions of voters find reprehensible. Let me go on record as saying I was not against the government’s decision to go to war in Iraq. But millions of people were. How many of those people who did not want our government to spend a penny on that war now condemn Jimmy Carr for attempting to reduce his tax burden?

What about the government pouring money into quangos, consulting firms, jobs for the boys? Billions spent on IT Computer systems that fail to deliver the promised efficiency and savings. Money spent on countless schemes that have little measurable value. Money poured into the Arts and Sport without you or I being consulted as to whether we value the investment made.

Yet when anyone tries to reduce their tax burden they are condemned for taking money away from doctors and nurses...

What percentage does the NHS receive from your taxes? The Guardian newspaper has helpfully provided a useful breakdown and it’s actually far more than I realised: £130 Billion out of £683 Billion – a whacking 19%!

What would be really fascinating would be to further break that down and find out how much of the NHS services are required due to violence; drug abuse; alcohol abuse; smoking; or obesity. Would we be so keen to give more money to the NHS if we were actually told what the money was used for?

I have greatly benefitted from the NHS throughout my life. I suffered from Asthma as a child and still require occasional treatment. I have been given five star treatment by nurses and doctors; have been operated on to save my life; even benefitted yesterday from their out of hours program to get advice and a needed prescription.

I agree that there are efficiencies of scale. That government can provide benefits to us as a population when it uses our taxes wisely. The problem is that I don’t believe the government is using our taxes wisely and this is on top of forcing everyone in the UK to pay far more tax than I believe anyone should have to pay. How much tax do you pay? Do you really know?

I suspect that everyone who earns between £20-£50,000 a year will pay more than 45% in tax. Sound way off? What happens when you factor in income tax, national insurance, council tax, fuel duty, insurance premium tax and on top of that – VAT on the vast majority of our purchases... Does 45% still seem too much?

It is.

The Guardian chart illustrates that our government is currently spending 13% more than it receives in tax. That is £91 Billion it has to borrow today and we have to pay back tomorrow. Do you really want to be taking on that much debt each year?

As I said at the start, I sympathise with Jimmy Carr. I want to pay less tax. I want the government to be 100% honest and transparent about where our money goes and give us far more say in what tax is spent on. Personally I think Mr Carr went too far in his attempt to reduce his tax burden but in comparing Carr and Cameron I believe the government’s mismanagement of our money is the real moral outrage.


  1. I would happily pay more tax in exchange for better / more universal access to education and health care and better support for the vulnerable - e.g. assylum seekers, the unemployed etc. I certainly wouldn't want my money withdrawn from the NHS because it was being used to help victims of violence or drug users.

    Government efficiency/inefficiency has always been an issue and successive governments have tried to tackle that, but apparently without much success.

    I wasn't in favour of the war in Iraq - at least, certainly not the way we went about it - and neither do I support Jimmy Carr's tax avoidance, but I'm not sure what that proves?

    I am not a big sports fan, but I support the Arts (at least in principal!) and am happy for the government to spend my money on both of these things. In my view, these are things that should be in the public domain, that contribute genuinely to people's quality of life, and that should be supported by all of us.

    Money will always be wasted, and voters will always disagree about how it should be spent, and I think it's important we try to improve things and continue to have these debates. In the mean time though, in the interests of contributing to a fair (ish!) and just society, I certainly don't resent the tax I have to pay.

    I think Carr was wrong to dodge his tax, but I also think Cameron was hypocritical to say so. There are much bigger fish out there, and as usual, Cameron is picking on the soft targets, just as he is now doing with the young unemployed. If he really wants to save some money then he ought to do something about corporate tax avoidance rather than taking pot shots at people like Jimmy Carr!