One of Britain's most well-known Christian accountants has described the UK as a tax haven for the rich while saying that the poor in the UK are now paying more in tax.
Richard Murphy, co-founder of the Tax Justice Network, urged Christians to stand in solidarity with the poor by campaigning against tax dodging by corporations and wealthy individuals.
Murphy made the comments yesterday evening (2 July) while giving the Beckly Lecture, a regular event at the annual Methodist Conference, being held this week in Plymouth.
Murphy, who describes himself as “a Quaker with Anglican leanings”, was one of the first people to engage in detailed research into tax avoidance and evasion by the rich. He founded the Tax Justice Network with John Christensen in 2003.
He told the Conference, “The poorest have been paying more tax. But for the rich and multinational companies the UK has become a tax haven. The result has been a massive rise in inequality in this country as the rich have got richer and the rest have stood still, or worse.”
Murphy pointed out that the cost to the European Union of tax evasion may be €1 trillion a year, and that tax avoidance and evasion by multinational corporations using tax havens may cost developing countries about £100bn a year. This is almost exactly the same as total world aid budget.
He enthusiastically quoted Jesus' statement that God had sent him to “tell the poor good news”. Murphy insisted that this is also the mission of the Christian Church. He described his own work on tax avoidance as his “Christian vocation”.
He warmly welcomed the UK Uncut and Occupy movements, which he said built on the work of the Tax Justice Network and helped to push corporate tax avoidance to the top of the agenda.
He pointed out the overlooked successes of campaign in this area: George Osborne has closed a tax loophole concerning online purchases from the Channel Islands; the USA now requires oil and gas companies to produce 'country-by-country' accounts, which make it much harder to conceal tax dodging; the UK government has ended a subsidy to the Isle of Man, which helped it to function as a tax haven.
Despite this, Murphy believes that the UK government is failing to seriously address tax avoidance. With the government implementing heavy cuts to public services and the welfare state, he believes that “there is now a choice to be made”.
He told the Conference, “We can stop tax cheats cheating or cut pensions. We can cut corporation tax rates for large companies or cut the NHS. We can sack staff who could crack down on tax avoidance at HMRC or deny our children a proper education. We can introduce half hearted measures to tackle tax abuse – as the government plans – or force our children to stay at home until they’re 25. We can cut the 50p tax rate or provide the capital to create the green investment bank that could put people to work in this country."