I’ve had a number of emails about the revelation that HSBC has helped many wealthy individuals avoid paying tax asking how I would respond.
As the home of HSBC’s predecessor, the Midland Bank, this is a big issue for Sheffield. And it’s important to remember that the vast majority of HSBC staff work with the utmost integrity. For the sake of the diligent and upright staff, and the reputation of the financial sector as a whole, we have to address this enormously serious issue.
If the government was as concerned about tax avoidance as they are about benefit fraud then we would have much less of an issue with inequality than we do now and a much stronger economy. It’s scandalous that so many wealthy individuals and corporations who do business in the UK fail to pay a fair amount of tax while the poorest and most vulnerable are pursued with such venom.
With respect to how we might tackle tax dodging I’d suggest two things –
– that we close the loopholes that allow overseas-based businesses to avoid paying tax on their UK sales and income
– that we stop the ridiculous situation whereby commercial organisations such as banks and accountancy firms are given the responsibility to draft tax legislation and systems only to take that inside knowledge back to their clients. I think our tax rules should be constructed on behalf of the nation and in the interests of UK citizens by experts without a conflict of interest.
I believe a significant part of the problem and the reason that this issue hasn’t been fully addressed is the way political parties are funded (for example, the Tories have received £875,000 from senior HSBC staff) – Parties tend to act in, or at least protect, the interests of their sponsors rather than the electorate. It is one of the reasons that I’m standing as an independent – I want to act on behalf of the people of Sheffield Hallam rather than some corporate paymaster.
The disgrace of inequality
Inequality is bad for us all. Having wide discrepancies in people’s wealth is not only socially divisive and, emotionally and intellectually debilitating, it is also economically catastrophic. No society can sustain such a massive gap between the richest and poorest.
Sadly, today there is yet more depressing evidence that the Coalition’s Austerity budgets have created a massive increase in inequality in the UK.
We already know that average household incomes are still declining and that a record number of working families are in poverty.
Today’s report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation describes how 8.1m parents and children don’t have the incomes they need. The study says that the number of families with children on inadequate incomes rose by more than the between 2008 and 2013.
The Foundation describes it as “income stagnation” – it is known as hardship and poverty to you and me.
Of course the daily reality of inequality is a long way from the corridors of Westminster. This is how the government responded to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report:
“UK income inequality is now lower than when this government came into office and the recovery is being felt across the country.”
The Coalition is utterly divorced from ordinary lives.
Austerity isn’t working.
Cuts to our public services aren’t working.
If there was ever a desperate need for change it is now.
Being part of Our Fair City
I’m delighted to have become a Champion of the Our Fair City project in Sheffield. Tackling inequality is something that really matters to me – it’s one of the reasons I’m standing in the general election.
Our Fair City is a project that brings together people who “live, work, study or do business in Sheffield” in order to “make our great city a place we can be really proud of.” It’s about promoting fairness for all. The Fairness Commission has established some good guidelines for how citizens and policy makers can make the city a fairer place:
- Civic responsibility – all residents to contribute to making the city fairer and for all citizens to have a say in how the city works
- Those with the most resources should make the biggest contributions
- The commitment to fairness must be for the long-term
- The commitment to fairness must be across the whole city
- Preventing inequalities is better than trying to cure them
- To be seen to act in a fair way as well as acting fairly
- Those in greatest need should take priority
- An open continuous campaign for fairness in the city
- Fairness must be a matter of balance between different groups, communities and generations in the city
- The city’s commitment to fairness must be both demonstrated and monitored in an annual report
Our Fair City is an initiative that seeks to make our home “the fairest city in the UK” and encompasses supporters from across the political spectrum. It’s a great example of what we can do together.
Prosperity with compassion
While 2015 might not deliver Back to the Future style hover boards, let’s hope it gives us a change of heart in government: where compassion triumphs over cuts and where plans for long term prosperity overcome petty party politics.
Let’s stop talking about cuts. Let’s grow. Let’s rebuild our economy so that it can afford the services that make life better for us all.