Apple's tax ruse is astonishingly cynical

Remember when Apple was as fresh, green and wholesome as the fruit it’s named after? I don’t really either, but the most recent news — reported in today’s Times — that Apple is "pursuing the holy grail of tax avoidance" by setting up subsidiaries that are not based in any country is quite astonishingly cynical. 

According to the report, one subsidiary called Apple Operations International has no employees or offices anywhere. It’s certainly a creative solution — but when developing countries lose eight times more to tax evasion than they receive in aid ($385bn according to DFID) and the UK tax gap is estimated at £30bn, the creative minds behind the tax ruse ought to be using their skills elsewhere.

The concept of not registering in any country at all is an interesting one, and something I’ve been researching when it comes to wealthy individuals. Projects like "The World" — a globe-crossing luxury boat containing 165 private residences so that ‘home’ is wherever ‘The World’ is — loosen the ties that usually exist between an individual and a particular country (and their inland revenue.) 

Last year, 1800 Americans gave up their US citizenship. While some renounced their US citizenship for political reasons (often because they object to US foreign policy), a large proportion did so for tax reasons. The US is one of only four countries in the world (the others are the incongruous gang of North Korea, The Philippines and Eritrea) that tax their citizens regardless of where they are living. Most other countries tax individuals on the basis of residence. 

The vast majority of Americans who have expatriated have taken up a second nationality instead, but the US is also unusual in that gives citizens the option of becoming stateless ie. having no nationality at all. There are an estimated 12 million stateless people in the world — people who often face grave difficulties, including a lack of access to state welfare, education or healthcare or travel documents. But a handful of people are known to have become stateless voluntarily.

I’ve spoken to one of them, and next issue I’ll be exploring whether the rich will consider statelessness as a radical way to avoid tax.

Photograph: Getty Images

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.