x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The joke's on everyone in Britain's comedic tax scandal

The UK's National Health Service ensures nobody need face infirmity or illness without receiving the best medical care money can provide. It is made possible by people paying their taxes.

It was Benjamin Franklin who famously said: "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." In the UAE, of course, only one of those is a concern, but for many in the UK, the constant state of anxiety about how to pay the second often leads to a premature rendezvous with the first.

The irony is that while most people have no option but to pay without complaint, the richer you are, the more money you can throw at hiring "creative accountants" to lessen your tax liability.

Luckily, a robust domestic media ensures that many high-profile miscreants attempting to massage their accounts are brought to book. It's now been revealed that one of Britain's leading comedians, Jimmy Carr, a man well known for his caustic critiques of the so-called "fat cats" of high-end tax dodging, has been getting up to the same shenanigans for which he mercilessly pillories others.

Carr has been accused of saving millions of dollars in taxes by channelling his huge income through a complex tax loophole named K2, which circumvents normal liability by paying its clients in the form of an offshore loan.

Worse still, it's estimated that as many as 1,000 other high earners have exploited this loophole, depriving the UK taxman of up to £250 million (Dh1.8 billion). No sooner had the story broke then Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in, describing Carr's use of the K2 arrangement as "morally wrong" and declaring the comedian's financial affairs to be nothing more than "straightforward tax avoidance".

As so often occurs in politics, Mr Cameron's words have come back to bite him. Since his outburst of moral rectitude, it's now been revealed that Mr Cameron's own father, the stockbroker Ian Cameron, was one of the first Britons to move money overseas during the boom years of economic plenty in the 1980s. Worse, it turns out that another media celebrity and darling of the Conservative party, singer Gary Barlow, is yet another beneficiary of K2.

While Barlow has yet to comment on his own situation, Carr has wasted no time in apologising for his misdemeanour, citing the old standby employed by anyone who is caught with fingers in the till - "it was an error of judgement". Carr reassured his adoring fan base on Twitter (in 140 carefully chosen characters) that he will be first in the queue with his chequebook when the tax man next comes calling.

But Carr's case has shone a stark light on just how disjointed the moral connection has become between paying taxes and the consequences of not doing so. Whether it's merely purchasing a bootlegged DVD at a market stall, claiming spurious travel expenses or employing battalions of crafty accountants to transfer your income to far-flung offshore havens, petty deceit has become something of a participation sport nowadays. The consequences of "getting away with it" are rarely discussed. After all, why not try to save a few quid if you can?

The implications of all this missing revenue was brought home to me in the starkest of circumstances this week when I visited a colleague who is now in hospital with a broken back, after walking through an unmarked door last Saturday while at work - a door which led to nothing except a three-metre drop on to a concrete floor.

Alison may or may not walk again, but her tale of what happened in the aftermath of her accident left me in no doubt as to why income tax is so important in Britain. Airlifted by helicopter from central London, she arrived at hospital to find a team of no fewer than 20 specialist paramedics, surgeons and hospital support staff waiting to receive her.

Within three hours her spinal cord has been operated on, and when I visited her a few days later she already was sitting up on bed in a gleaming ward, munching grapes and waxing lyrical about the chances of her beloved cricket team.

Alison's chance of recovery is only possible because of the peerless UK National Health Service. Air ambulances, surgeons and even grapes don't come cheap. The national system ensures nobody need face infirmity or illness without receiving the best medical care money can provide.

It is surely such benefits as these, rather than a sports car or holiday home in the Bahamas, that make life worth living. Anyone contemplating tax avoidance should think about it. After all, they, too, may one day walk through an unmarked door.

 

Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London