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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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

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