Saturday, 21 January 2012


Do you know anyone on the run from the tax man? I do. It doesn't look like a fun place to be.

This person didn't make any money to speak of in the years they avoided the dreaded tax return, but because they didn't write in and prove this, they are now in the government's debt.

What do you say to someone who has ignored all the letters, all the requests and all the threats; who has paid no attention to the adverts on TV reminding them to complete their tax return; who knows the law and has chosen to ignore it? What do you say to them when the law finally catches up with them and they find themselves spending a large chunk of their existence in fear of being given a dehabilitating fine, or loosing their meagre property to bailiffs, or possibly even being arrested because of their inaction?

I'm almost ashamed to say that my gut reaction is that they should have just done what they were told in the first place. They should have just played the game. No, I'll rephrase that... we are ALL playing the game, whether we opt in or not. You have to play to the 'pre-arranged' rules or you'll only find yourself in trouble sooner or later. They should have played to those rules instead of carrying on their life as if they WEREN'T playing the game.

And that is my reaction because that's what I do. I never really even contemplated why I did it... I just did it because it's what you do. They say you have to pay tax, I pay tax. They say you have to fill in your tax return or we'll fine you, I fill in my tax return. It never seemed to be much of a bother. I mean, yes it was frustrating to loose a large chunk of my tiny earnings to tax, but then that's just what happens, what's always happened. And in the past when I did think about it, I justified it with words like 'NHS' and 'Roads' and 'Rubbish Collection' and 'Firemen' and then it made sense that I had to pay my fair share.

But when this happens to someone you're close to, you start to see these things from a different light. And of course, global economical circumstances are unstable at the moment: it seems the eyes of the entire western world are opening to financial matters, particularly those concerning unfairness. We are (en-mass it appears) beginning to suspect the rules of the game aren't designed for the benefit of the players.

Now, I am not justifying tax dodgers here. My opinion is that that basic prinicpal of paying tax is this: in a world without tax, everyone must look after themselves. In a perfect system, tax is a way of working together for the benefit of everyone. So you look at what a society needs to run to its full and greatest capacity, and in our society that means a health system, transport and roads, correct disposal of waste, accident response systems, food, water, housing, jobs and finally, a fairly chosen group of people working together to take care of everything. And to have those things, in our society, in our culture, in the system we have built up over thousands of years, we require money. So it makes sense that providing we all RECIEVE those things to the extent required to live comfortably, that we should each pay for our share of them.

But I also believe that in a fair system, if we decide that we don't want any of those things, that we want to live a life outside of the group, we should be able to. In this 'opt out' alternative option, we wouldn't have to pay tax. But then we must look after ourselves as I said before: grow our own food and take care of our own surroundings, be responsible for our own healthcare and our own transport and our own work. I understand that this would be a difficult thing to control and that's probably why there is no 'opt out' option: unfortunately I think people would take advantage and claim to opt out whilst still using systems sustained by the tax paying individuals. Nobody should have to support able people who aren't giving their fair share.

AHA! So this is where the light should flicker into life above our heads. In fact it should be glowing so brightly it could blind a person! See what we have here is certain rules for some people, and then other rules for other people. Or in other words, hypocricy. Because my last phrase there is EXACTLY what is happening. And even more painfully, it is those of us who are struggling the most that feel it the most.

The trouble is, it's all invisible to us. That's what makes it so frightening when we start opening our eyes to it. Who are we paying tax to? How much exactly are we paying? What is it actually being spent on? Who is paying it and who isn't? We are all giving away our own property without knowing the answers to these very basic and very FAIR questions. But if you try and get straight answers, it's pretty much bloody impossible! And that is both UNFAIR and SUSPECT.

When you start looking for answers yourself, you start noticing things that don't make sense. Why am I struggling to make ends meet, working my ass off and constantly worrying if I'll be able to pay the rent next month, whilst paying for the Royal Family's servants and chandeliers and horses and carriages? How is that in any way essential to my own comfortable living, or that of the majority of the country? Sorry but fuck off! I need FOOD and a HOME!

Give me a reason why there shouldn't be an easily accessible list of all the things we pay for? Why can't there be a number of mandatory tax payments, for the things I listed above as essential for the comfortable living of our entire society... and then another list of voluntary contributions that those of us who can afford to support can choose to pay for?

I'm not even going to start on the whole subject of tax exemption by large corporations, bankers, and other parties who clearly have quite disgusting excesses of money in the first place. Frankly it's sickening and I don't want to think about it.

Similarly, I'm not going to argue about the instant crimination of anyone who misses their tax payments, other than to provide this example of it happening to me:

I personally found myself in a position where my eyes were opened to the unfairness of the tax system a number of years back when I moved out of my student house after leaving university. Living with a group of 6 other young people, it was normal for bills to be left unpaid just a little longer than they should, simply because getting 7 of us to pay up at the same time was pretty much impossible- not to mention the fact that post constantly went missing, with 7 people all putting it in different places. But we weren't criminals or tax dodgers, we were just innocent (and financially broke) kids.

And then out of the blue we had the letter from HMRC informing us that we had missed our last council tax payment and now had to pay well over a thousand pounds, along with a fine of a hundred pounds, within 7 days or we would be taken to court. Suddenly all 7 of us were criminals. No warning letters, no phone call, no visit, just instant criminals unless we paid up.

We scrimped, we borrowed, we went without everything but the basics for a while so that we could pay the bill and save ourselves from the criminal records, but we still ended up with large black marks on our credit reports and were subsequently referred to bailiffs as soon as ANY bill was late for the next few years. I felt like a frightened first year high school pupil being bullied by a large sixth-former for my dinner money. Except it's much worse than that because it takes you so close to real-life despondency that it feels like one more push till you fall off the edge of the world. Dramatic maybe, but you don't know how it feels to be in that position until you've been there, and this is EXACTLY why it is perverse that the people who write the rules, write rules like these... none of them have EVER been there, and if their duty truly was to the general public they wouldn't do it.

And so while in my gut, I wish my friend had just filled in their damn tax return so they could live without the threat of capture, I am also very proud of them for standing up to the bullies and fighting for what they believe in. They chose not to pay for what they didn't want, and if we all did it together at the same time, think of the change we could make...

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