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What Jimmy Carr did was wrong, but he isn't alone

21st June 2012

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Jimmy Carr, one of the country's edgiest comedians, today apologised for his actions following the breaking of a story which said he had opted into a scheme that allowed him to legally pay less tax.

He apologised, so the story is dead, right? Wrong.

For all those jumping to Carr's defence, because it was the fault of the system and, therefore, no personal responsibility lies on Carr's shoulders, then I say that you are both wrong and right. Yes, this system should not have been in place, but Jimmy Carr made an active and conscious decision to participate in this scheme, thus he is in the wrong also. He may have made scything attacks on the Conservative-led coalition government, and how it operates, but let's face it, he benefited from a scheme which the government implemented. We expected more from him, and he let us down.

However, Jimmy Carr has at least owned up to what he did. He took part in a morally-questionable activity, which was revealed by the press, immediately apologised for what he did and understood why people would be angry. Fair enough, but the real question remains: who else doesn't pay the correct amount of tax in this country?

This question might not be examined, or commented on in such depth by David Cameron or the UK Government. Many wealthy donors and advisers to the Conservative Party, such as Philip Green, do not pay the correct levels of tax.

With such high levels of public attention on the personal finances of famous individuals, perhaps it is time we examined who pays what at the highest levels of major companies, public bodies, and, more crucially, our government.

Following the introduction of the budget to the House of Commons in March, every member of the UK Cabinet was asked to disclose whether the reduction in the top-rate of tax of 50p in the pound to 45p would directly affect them. Every single member of the cabinet refused to say whether they would benefit from the change.

The UK Government is all for 'transparency' when it comes to tax-affairs of those in government, but, as an adviser to a cabinet member recently told the Financial Times, “transparency is, of course, a good thing, but unlimited transparency can produce perverse results.”

Ken Livingstone recently discovered how damaging it can be to have your tax affairs published in the press, and the majority of Government ministers should be paying the top-rate of tax, given that the ministerial wage is £135,000, so if they earn £15,000 from extra—governmental activities, then they meet the criteria.

Companies such as the Arcadia Group and Vodafone have long histories of paying incorrect levels of tax to the UK Government. Vodafone had an unpaid tax bill of almost £6 billion, which Chancellor George Osbourne wrote off. That tax bill could have come close to paying for the £7 billion in cuts made to the UK welfare budget. Meanwhile, the former head of Arcadia Group, which owns high-street favourites Topshop, Topman, Burtons, BHS, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Miss Selfridge, Outfit and Evans, Sir Philip Green, avoided paying a tax-bill of nearly £1.2 billion. He eventually paid this back, having been the target of protests over the fact that an adviser to David Cameron was avoiding paying tax in the UK.

One of the Prime Minister's very wealthy friends, Take That star Gary Barlow, was also revealed to have participated in a similar scheme as the one Jimmy Carr took part in. Barlow has just been awarded an OBE and is also a prominent supporter of the Conservative Party, and the Prime Minister refused to comment on his case.

Frankly, serious questions need to be asked about how the wealthy in this country pay tax, and why a significant proportion of them believe that they have a right to hoard money which could be used to help support the most vulnerable and unfortunate in our society.

Whilst the working and middle-classes in this country are battered and bruised from budget cuts and cuts to public services, and demonised if they are caught cheating the welfare system, the wealthy get tax cuts and are permitted to get away with it. What's the difference between tax avoiders and benefit cheats? Answer: benefit cheats have no influence on Government policy, nor are they bosom buddies of those in Government.

We're all in this together? Yeah, right.

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