Social Responsibility and the Super Rich

The Super Rich are attracted to the UK because of the Government’s covert policy of turning a blind eye to tax dodging in the mistaken belief that having lots of rich people in the country will drive the economy and create a ‘trickle down’ effect to the rest of us.  We will all somehow benefit from the scraps that fall from the tables of the wealthy elite.

For me, this is at odds with the notion of a developed society that highly values its citizens and hard won democracy and personal freedoms.  We can do what we like, say what we like, believe what we like and think what we like, provided we adhere to the Law of the Land, and understand basic citizenship mores and values.  In the eyes of the Law we are all equal, a reason why many choose to move to the UK from more restrictive or oppressive countries.

However, Britain is increasingly becoming a divided society. Life in Britain is polarizing at an alarming rate between the rich elite and the rest – a 1-99% split, in fact, with the 1% sitting on greater personal wealth that the remaining 99%, who under our capitalist system are seen as serving their needs.  We cannot be truly equal in such a society, where those who have the most pay proportionally the least towards the country’s running costs and have the ability to accumulate huge wealth from which the majority are excluded by low wages and high cost of living, exacerbated by high property prices.

“But I’ve earned it and I want to keep it!” shriek the super rich.  Of course you do.  But you should not shirk your responsibility to the society in which you live.  You freely enjoy the infrastructure of a developed country – airports, roads, transport system, street lighting, rubbish collection, luxury accommodation, shops, arts, leisure and relative good security – all the support services desired by the wealthy are in London and the South East (sorry the rest of the UK!).

They also seek to maximise profits by reducing wages, a process that involves the replacement of expensive, high maintenance British workers with cheap and easy to bully migrant workers, many coming from poorer countries – our celebrated multi-cultural society is putting pressure on health, education and housing, and is increasingly a cause of irritation with British workers. In the run-up to the UK General Election in May, austerity and real poverty in Britain has become a hot election topic.

In the news this week the billionaire boss of Boots the Chemist, one of Britain’s leading, and oldest, high street pharmaceutical stores, has claimed it would be a “catastrophe” if Labour were to win the election.  A catastrophe for him, perhaps, as Italian Stefano Pessina is a non-dom tax dodger living in Monaco, with an estimated personal wealth of £7.5 billion.  He would probably argue that he has earned his money, whereas I would counter-argue that he has amassed a huge fortune in part through over payment, bonuses, shares and tax avoidance. I’m sure he loves coming to London for board meetings and enjoys the privileged lifestyle, whilst making sure he doesn’t exceed his allowed quota of days to qualify for non-dom status.  Isn’t it time this tax loophole was closed and those who earn their wealth in the UK are made to pay taxes here?  They are selling goods and services to us because we are a wealthy country with an active consumer society.  Or maybe we’re just mugs – sheep to be shorn.

The other tax dodge which is reducing Government income is the avoidance of corporation tax by big international companies, who operate in a low tax framework in countries where they don’t have their head office.  The Sunday Mirror (01/02/15) reported that, “Six of the world’s biggest companies paid just 0.3% of their UK earnings in corporation tax last year.” The report says the accounts of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, ebay and Starbucks were examined, and found that they reported a combined revenue total for the UK market of £2.7 billion.  Many more billions worth of sales are recorded every year by sister companies often located in tax havens like Luxembourg and Switzerland.  However, they pay a pittance in corporation tax and move their profits off-shore, leaving us with the uncomfortable feeling that we are being exploited.

This comes against a back drop of a ‘miss’ by £9.4 billion on the target set by Government for corporation tax collections, due to a reduction in the rate by Chancellor George Osborne.  Government policy remains to indulge the super rich and encourage tax dodging by individuals and international companies.  This whole policy exposes the Government’s austerity programme as being little more than cynical ideological warfare against the poorest in our society – the rich get richer and everyone else pays for it.  Worse than that, real employment opportunities and quality of life are deteriorating in Britain, as people suffer from reduced income and declining services.  As the Government cuts funding to the welfare state, there is growing anger in the country as it becomes apparent that this is unnecessary if only the wealthy elite paid their dues.

My personal journey has taken me from the private sector to the non-profit sector, so I have seen life on both sides of the fence.  As such, I am not one to cry, “Tax the rich to pay for the poor!”  I believe those who work hard should enjoy the benefits of their labour.  However, what I can’t abide is the culture of insatiable greed by those who are already rich, and the cynical and cruel treatment of the most vulnerable in society.  We will all get old one day, so why make pensioners suffer?

This meanness is the nasty side of our capitalist system, and we now find that those who work hard are no longer rewarded as the fat cats get it all. It is a Tory lie that hard work brings reward – bankers are back earning their bonuses whilst the rest are told they must tighten their belts. We need to reverse this worrying trend for the sake of future generations and in the interests of decency and social accountability.  We will not be bullied by greedy capitalists with the ‘if you tax us we’ll leave’ argument.  They like the benefits of living and running businesses in the UK too much to leave for the sake of a few thousand pounds from their bulging off-shore accounts.  They like money but they don’t need it.  Call their bluff, and remind them of their social responsibilities.  Maybe, just maybe, some of them will be shamed.

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