Cameron tells Pakistanis tax non-payment is unfair

David Cameron criticises Pakistan’s tax-dodging rich at a press conference in Islamabad.

In a speech at a press conference in Islamabad, David Cameron told Pakistan's elite that:

Many of your richest people are getting away without paying much tax at all – and that's not fair.

When considering Cameron's words, let's remember that the UK facilitates the very same actions through its sovereignty over 13 of the 24 biggest tax havens in the world, including Jersey, Guernsey, the Cayman Islands and the City of London.

First, it is important to note that the vast majority of people considered "rich" in the UK do pay their taxes. According to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), there are roughly 327,000 people who earn more than £150,000 per year – the rate at which the 50p tax is introduced. HMRC predicts that by the end of this fiscal year, the richest 327,000 will be paying 26.7 per cent of the total tax collected in the country.

Nevertheless, a request filed by the London Evening Standard under the Freedom of Information Act in 2007 revealed that in 2004-2005 only 65 of the roughly 400 UK-based individuals who earn £10m per year or more actually paid income tax. The failure was estimated to have lost HMRC up to £2bn in revenues.

The related issue of companies in the UK not paying tax has been brought to mainstream attention by the recent UK Uncut protests – fingering Vodafone, Topshop and Boots, among others, as having allegedly "dodged" paying billions.

The chairman of Pakistan's Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR), Salman Siddiqui, recently issued notices to the wealthiest 700,000 of Pakistan's 2.3 million rich to give up withheld taxes. Although the number of non-payers is far higher than estimates in the UK, Cameron would be better advised to clean up the UK's own mess first before preaching to other countries.

Surprisingly, Cameron did not make the distinction between tax evasion and tax avoidance in his speech. Whereas the latter is considered legal – when taxes are not paid, using the help of loopholes – the former is considered illegal: non-payment of taxes that breaks the law.

A committee was set up to investigate the costs and benefits of having a General Anti-Avoidance Rule for the UK earlier this year. It has until 31 October 2011 to come to a conclusion.

Liam McLaughlin is a freelance journalist who has also written for Prospect and the Huffington Post. He tweets irregularly @LiamMc108.

Photo: Getty Images
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Britain's shrinking democracy

10 million people - more than voted for Labour in May - will be excluded from the new electoral roll.

Despite all the warnings the government is determined to press ahead with its decision to close the existing electoral roll on December 1. This red letter day in British politics is no cause for celebration. As the Smith Institute’s latest report on the switch to the new system of voter registration shows, we are about to dramatically shrink our democracy.  As many as 10 million people are likely to vanish from the electoral register for ever – equal to 20 per cent of the total electorate and greater than Labour’s entire vote in the 2015 general election. 

Anyone who has not transferred over to the new individual electoral registration system by next Tuesday will be “dropped off” the register. The independent Electoral Commission, mindful of how the loss of voters will play out in forthcoming elections, say they need at least another year to ensure the new accuracy and completeness of the registers.

Nearly half a million voters (mostly the young and those in private rented homes) will disappear from the London register. According to a recent HeraldScotland survey around 100,000 residents in Glasgow may also be left off the new system. The picture is likely to be much the same in other cities, especially in places where there’s greater mobility and concentrations of students.

These depleted registers across the UK will impact more on marginal Labour seats, especially  where turnout is already low. Conversely, they will benefit Tories in future local, Euro and general elections. As the Smith Institute report observers, Conservative voters tend to be older, home owners and less transient – and therefore more likely to appear on the electoral register.

The government continues to ignore the prospect of skewed election results owing to an incomplete electoral registers. The attitude of some Tory MPs hardly helping. For example, Eleanor Laing MP (the former shadow minister for justice) told the BBC that “if a young person cannot organize the filling in of a form that registers them to vote, they don’t deserve the right to vote”.  Leaving aside such glib remarks, what we do know is the new registers will tend to favour MPs whose support is found in more affluent rural and semi-rural areas which have stable populations.  

Even more worrying, the forthcoming changes to MPs constituencies (under the Boundary Review) will be based on the new electoral register. The new parliamentary constituencies will be based not on the voting population, but on an inaccurate and incomplete register. As Institute’s report argues, these changes are likely to unjustly benefit UKIP and the Conservative party.

That’s not to say that the voter registration system doesn’t need reforming.  It clearly does. Indeed, every evidence-based analysis of electoral registers over the last 20 years shows that both accuracy and completeness are declining – the two features of any electoral register that make it credible or not. But, the job must be done properly.  Casually leaving 10m voters off the electoral resister hardly suggests every effort has been made.

The legitimacy of our democratic system rests on ensuring that everyone can exercise their right to vote. This is a task which shouldn’t brook complacency or compromise.  We should be aiming for maximum voter registration, not settling for a system where one in five drop off the register.