Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 16 November 2015

It’s all very Taxing

We all pay our taxes.

One way or another, we all pay our taxes. OK, some of us don’t pay income tax, and there’s no reason we should if we fall beneath the thresholds. It’s only right and fair. But even if we don’t pay income tax, we still pay VAT, even on essentials like fuel to heat our homes, or sanitary products when we menstruate.

There’s been a whole big deal about VAT on sanitary products lately, but I’ve written a lot of feminist rants recently, so I’m not going to write about that this morning.

Today, I’m writing about a headline from my newspaper this past week. The headline compared the tax paid by One Direction with the tax paid by FaceBook last year.

Guardian: One Direction pay more tax than FaceBook
Yes, One Direction paid more UK tax last year than FaceBook… How is that even possible? It’s a pretty good headline, isn’t it?

It’s also shocking that a huge, global concern like FaceBook should pay less tax in the UK than four blokes who sing a bit. But that’s the point of headlines… to shock.

I wonder, though, what this article is really about. Is it about corporate corruption, or is it about One Direction? Is it great publicity for these four blokes who sing a bit?

One Direction earned about £45 million last year. They’re incredibly successful. We’re all very pleased for them. It’s all good. I can’t claim to be a fan; I’m not really their target audience, but I certainly don’t begrudge them their success. They’re popular; people like them; they earn a lot of money. They contributed £8 million and change to the country’s coffers last year, which sounds about right if they’re paying corporation tax, which I imagine they are.

One Direction came out of this article looking pretty good. Those four blokes contributed £2 million each to the wealth of the country. What fine men they are. Not for nothing, that left about £36 million earnings after tax, so I figure they’re not going hungry.

FaceBook paid a little over £4000 tax. Yes, that’s right, I did say four thousand pounds tax, last year in the UK. 

So my question is this:

Why did the newspaper compare FaceBook’s tax  bill with One Direction’s tax bill?

Do you know how much a person needs to earn to get a tax bill of four grand a year? Shall I tell you? 

To get the same tax bill as FaceBook in the UK, you need to earn £30K a year. That’s all… just thirty grand. Yes, I know to some people that sounds like a lot of money when the minimum wage is still less than £13k a year, but the average full-time salary in the UK is now thirty-one grand a year, putting a single earner squarely in the same tax liability bracket as FaceBook.

It might be shocking that One Direction pays more tax than FaceBook, it’s much more shocking that I do and that some of you do, too. It’s infinitely more shocking that every MP and every single doctor pays more tax in the UK than does FaceBook, and quite a lot of teachers do too, all of whom I consider to be undervalued and underpaid. 

It’s utterly horrifying that this government with its austerity measures and its mismanagement of the minimum wage, which will see the lowest incomes fall, in real terms, not to mention its de-funding of social security and the entire welfare system, singularly fails to collect taxes from big business. 

It would rather look the poor in the eyes and take them down, one by one, crossing their names off lists, while grabbing a handful of pounds at a time, than score big with tax bills levied on faceless corporations.

I just don’t get it.

I pay my taxes, and I am proud to do it, because I consider it a duty to contribute to the education of our  kids and the health of our sick, and the succour of our poor. I am happy to contribute to infrastructure and to culture, and I would love to have the chance to contribute to further education so that we could be rid of student debt… There are so very many political decisions that have been made and are being made by this government that I disagree with, but that’s the democratic process.

In the meantime, I think there are better ways to report the inconsistencies in our tax burdens. One Direction got a nice hit of publicity out of this news item, and that’s OK, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth.

Be a critical consumer of the news, and think about how much tax you pay in comparison to FaceBook, or in comparison to other past tax dodgers, including Amazon, Starbucks, Vodaphone, Experian, British American Tobacco, Tate and Lyle… And the list goes on.

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