Cayman Islands scrap planned income tax

Tax haven remains tax haven.

The Cayman islands, famed for being a haven for tax exiles and a jurisdiction which imposes minimal transparency requirements on foreign businesses, has scrapped an income tax which it was planning to levy on expatriate workers.

The Associated Press reports:

[Premier McKeeva] Bush announced in late July that he planned to impose a direct tax on expatriate workers' income Sept. 1 to bail the territorial government out of a financial hole and to meet Britain's demand that Cayman diversify its sources of revenue beyond the work permit fees, duties and other fees it now relies on.

He later said the annual income threshold would be $36,000, which would have affected about 5,870 expatriates. He described it as a "community enhancement fee" rather than a tax.

The proposal outraged many people, who said the tax would be discriminatory and could destroy the islands' main economic anchor.

The tax is, of course, problematic; imposing a special fee just on expatriate workers is a prima facie unjust thing to do. But it is somewhat surprising that Cayman residents have been quite so vehemently opposed to what is, after all, a relatively normal thing to experience in other countries.

It's almost as though they moved there for the express purpose of avoiding tax. Almost.

Scrapping the tax now leaves the Islands with a black hole in their finances, which the other ~48,000 residents of Cayman will struggle to pay off. But there could be a silver lining to that, as accountant and tax campaigner Richard Murphy writes:

The idea that local democracy could actually bring tax havens down is, however, one that I do find rather appealing. There would be a sense of justice in it if it were to happen, and the more local people suffer in places like Cayman and Jersey for the abuse being administered from their shores the moper likely that is to happen.

The Cayman Islands. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.