More people think cheating on your taxes is wrong than cheating on your partner!
Earlier this week, Tax Justice UK released a poll of over 3,000 people exploring their attitudes to a range of tax justice issues. The poll revealed significant support for changes to the UK tax system, but one of the most interesting findings was the overwhelming dislike of tax avoidance whether this was done by individuals or companies. When asked whether such behaviour, even if technically legal, was morally wrong 83.6% of the public thought it was wrong for companies and 79.9% thought it was wrong for individuals. Very rarely do the British public agree with each other about a moral issue.
To give these figures some perspective, in 2019 the BBC also ran a major survey of over 3000 people asking them about their moral beliefs on a list of topics. Below are the percentages of those that thought particular behaviours were wrong:
Indeed, it was hard to find a single moral issue that the public thought was worse than tax avoidance. While we acknowledge that the questions were asked in slightly different ways, if we compare these results then it would seem that a higher proportion of the British public consider tax avoidance wrong than the proportion who think cheating on your partner, taking illegal drugs or paying for sex are unacceptable. This is really quite remarkable given that at least one of these is definitely illegal.
It is even more remarkable given the fact that many accountants and lawyers still like to claim that there is nothing wrong with tax avoidance and promote their tax avoidance schemes with no shame. Can we imagine any respectable company doing the same in regard to drugs, prostitution or infidelity?
As a number of people have pointed out one of the problems with the government’s response to covid-19 is that though the corporate bailouts have been welcomed, they should have conditionalities attached. It is simply unacceptable that a company receiving large sums of public money should still be finding ways to avoid paying tax. Fair Tax Mark in particular have said that all companies receiving bailouts should “publish a binding tax policy that explicitly shuns tax avoidance and the artificial use of tax havens”. We agree with them and think the moral case for saying so is now indisputable.
Dr Justin Thacker is the National Coordinator for Church Action for Tax Justice