Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Comment
12 April 2022

“We’d all do it if we could” is no defence of Rishi Sunak’s wife

It's a moot point — barely anyone in the UK can afford the sort of tricksy accountant required to avoid tax.

By James Bloodworth

“We’d all do it if we could.”

That’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times during the past week since it emerged that Rishi Sunak’s wife, the multi-millionaire Akshata Murty, has saved millions of pounds in tax on dividends from her family’s IT business empire. Usually from Conservative apologists for the Chancellor.

Murty has managed to significantly reduce the amount of tax she pays in the UK by claiming non-domiciled status, despite living in the UK since 2015. Sunak, who sought to defend his wife on the dubious basis that because she is Indian she shouldn’t have to pay UK tax on all her international earnings, has inflamed the scandal further.

The avoidance of tax (as opposed to tax evasion) is not illegal. Yet tax avoidance does violate widely accepted British notions of fairness. Nine out of ten people believe that tax avoidance is morally wrong, even if technically legal, according to a 2017 survey.

Whether we would all avoid tax if we could is rather a moot point. In reality most people in Britain cannot afford the sort of tricksy accountant or lawyer required to avoid tax. Nor do the majority in Britain have a permanent home (domicile) outside of the UK — which is what it takes to qualify as a non-dom. 

And besides, Sunak isn’t supposed to be like the rest of us: he literally presides over the British tax system. It’s fair to expect him and his family to set a good example. This is especially true at a time when the Chancellor has just increased taxes for working people against a backdrop of plummeting living standards and rising inflation. 

Above all, the controversy highlights once again the contrasting way in which rich and poor are treated in modern Britain. The government recently decided that the £20 Universal Credit uplift granted to some of the poorest families in the country during the pandemic was “unaffordable”. Yet we are expected to shrug and move on when the fabulously wealthy occupants of No 11 Downing Street (Sunak is the richest MP in parliament) assiduously seek to reduce what they pay into the collective pot.

Content from our partners
The cost-of-living crisis is hitting small businesses – Liz Truss must act
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs

It’s true that a belief has long prevailed in this country that the rich will only work if you shower them with tax breaks whereas the poor will only do so if you squeeze and impoverish them. However, the corrosive cynicism that runs through the veins of contemporary conservatism is a more recent phenomenon. Not everyone in Britain is on the take and to say otherwise is little more than projection. How quickly some forget the selfless heroics of public service workers that got us through the grim first two years of the pandemic.

If public service represents a higher calling then the ruthless pursuit of one’s own self-interest via the tax system (hello Rishi and Akshata) is wildly at odds with that. And if moral arguments fail to convince you, here is a cold and rational one: in a country where politicians are once again telling us of the pressing need to “balance the books”, perhaps they should get busy closing the loopholes which make it so frighteningly easy for the fabulously rich to avoid paying tax.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

Topics in this article: , ,