The Sunday Times has published its latest “tax list”. It’s a Who’s-Who of very rich people who pay a lot of tax – or, if you prefer, don’t break the law and declare their income as they’re supposed to. So, enter think tank the High Pay Centre not only to give some slow applause to these million-and billionaires, but also point out what is obvious to most of us – except the Sunday Times, clearly.
Sunday Times Tax List: sorry, the what…?
As News UK reported:
The 100 wealthy individuals or families revealed in this year’s Sunday Times Tax List were liable for a total of £5.181 billion of UK tax last year.
The fifth edition of the Tax List — released as millions of people race to meet the self-assessment deadline — features figures from the worlds of music and the arts, as well as billionaire aristocrats and rags-to-riches entrepreneurs.
Well-established companies dominate the list with few firms founded in the 21st century making the cut, highlighting the challenge for the chancellor and his successors as the economy moves further online.
Published after a challenging year for the exchequer, the research found:
- 100 individuals and families have each paid at least £10.7 million of tax either personally or through their businesses.
- The highest taxpayers in Britain include a scrap metal dealer, an athleisure tycoon from Bromsgrove, JK Rowling, the boss of Wetherspoon, Sting and the Duke of Westminster.
- The top ten taxpayers delivered £2.333 billion to the government — up nearly 14 per cent on a year ago, continuing the surge in £100 million-plus taxpayers.
The problem isn’t obvious to everyone…
The capitalist media dutifully lapped-up the list. However, campaign group Tax Justice UK had a different response:
Robert Watts compiled the Sunday Times Tax List. He hinted at the problem – but couldn’t quite bring himself to say it with his chest:
You will find celebrities on the Tax List but many of the entries are people who quietly run largely unheralded businesses that have been creating jobs and paying millions of tax for decades or even centuries.
So-called ‘unicorn’ tech firms may dominate the headlines, but they often aren’t cash cows for the Treasury because they don’t employ large numbers of people or show big profits. It’s the long-established retailers, pub groups and other bricks-and-mortar businesses that often contribute more.
There lies the challenge for the chancellor and his successors. As our economy inevitably shifts further and further online, how do we continue to fund the public services we all want?
Tax avoidance: a very British problem
Well, Rob – the government could start by properly taxing these unicorn tech firms. For example, many of us will have heard of the online fashion retailer SHEIN. However, what you may not know is that the company is based out of tax haven Singapore. Moreover, as City AM reported, SHEIN doesn’t seem to pay much tax in the UK:
The company made £1.1bn of turnover and £12.2m in profit in the 16 months to December 2022, but incurred a tax bill of only £2.3m, according to a report in The Sunday Times which cited company accounts.
The newspaper reported that the sales figure was equivalent to £80m for each of its 14 UK employees.
Then, you have the huge dictatorial tech firms like Amazon. One part of its UK operations paid NO corporation tax last year or the year before, despite sales of over £6bn.
Plus, as one particularly wry Twitter account pointed out, there’s a discrepancy in the Sunday Times‘s own reporting:
Sunday Times Tax List: rich people must still pay more
Luke Hildyard, executive director of the High Pay Centre – a think tank focused on pay, corporate governance and responsible business – has responded to the Sunday Times Tax List. He argues that we urgently need to increase taxation of the super rich in order to save our collapsing public services:
Even the biggest cheerleaders for the super-rich must find it surprising that at a time of collapsing public services with most of the population struggling with painful cost of living increases, the government has been unable to meaningfully increase the tax paid by Britain’s richest taxpayers.
Clearly, billionaires who pay taxes in line with the law like everybody else should be applauded but given the extraordinary fortunes they enjoy even after tax and the needs of our hospitals, schools, police and local government services, it doesn’t seem like we are taxing this group as effectively as we could.
So, the Sunday Times Tax List wants us to think that we should be grateful to whiny singer Ed Sheeran and Gammon-in-Chief Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin. In reality, though – the UK’s tax system is little more then a ‘get-richer-quicker’ scheme for the already super rich.
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