Friday, December 12, 2008

Lie detectors, tax avoiders and benefit cheats

While the Sun goads Purnell and friends, will they ever write about their owner Rupert Murdoch dodging corporate tax for years? How about using lie detectors on people like him?

Gordon Brown's government likes to talk tough the same way a foxhound would bully a shih-tzu into submission. James Purnell, for instance, is going to take no more of that nonsense from benefit claimants. The assumption is that if you're going through tough times and turn to the state for help, then you are pulling a fast one.

According to tough-talking Purnell, if you want those generous benefits you'll have to stick to a 9 til 5 regime, including, for instance, lessons on how to best draft a CV. There'll be endless interviews, checking, double-checking and triple-checking that you're not fleecing the system. There will be counselling. But how that can fill up every single day for months remains a mystery. If you've run out of stuff to do they'll probably figure out an automated wake-up call system just to ensure you don't sleep past 8am. They'll hire some brute to come and kick your arse if you haven't brushed your teeth. I mean, are we fucking joking? We give you 60 quid and you don't feel the obligation to get up at the crack of dawn?

And then there's the 'disabled'. Pain in the arse aren't they? The good old Spartans used to chuck them off a cliff and bob's your uncle. Obviously you can't do that anymore but, not being a softie, Purnell will assume they're lying too and have them put through more tests. You and your GP say you're unfit for work? We won't believe neither of you and instead pay another doctor to check you're not taking the piss.

Not enough? Here's where the best aspect of this "shake-up" comes in. Ladies and gentlemen, the lie detectors. Also known as polygraphs, they are far from 100 per cent accurate. According to the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, there is little scientific evidence to support their reliability. A quick glance online will take you to dozens of sites with tips on how to cheat a lie detector. Elsewhere, Edward Baker makes the point that, at best, lie detectors are believed to be 97% accurate. "If you were a jury member would that be accurate enough for you to convict? If you were a judge would you accept that for every 100 people you convicted 3 would have been denied their freedom for no reason at all?".

And yet, what a good idea these lie detectors would have been a while back. Chicken yoghurt and us are of the same opinion. If only Her Majesty's Government had a rule in place that every Prime Minister who wants to start bombing another country has to go through the lie detector. Iraq alone "would have saved the nation a pretty penny".

And can you imagine if James Purnell acted all big on the tax dodgers? Imagine if all those wealthy entrepreneurs suspected of cheating the taxman were subjected to a five-minute polygraph test to check if they're pulling a fast one. The Sun likes to pour industrial amounts of dung over scroungers, real and imaginary. But its owner Rupert Murdoch is universally admired for dodging vast amounts of corporate tax. According to the Economist (hence not the Morning Star), since 1987 "Murdoch's group made £1.4 billion in profits yet paid no net British corporation tax at all." (see here and here for details).

If Purnell and Brown focused a little more on tax avoidance, they could save up to £40bn a year. A recent study by the TUC highlighted that "tax avoidance by companies and the wealthy costs everyone at work £1,000 a year". Just to give you a sense of proportion, the dreadful incapacity benefits that are keeping Purnell awake at night cost £6.9bn a year.


Madam Miaow said...

Any plans to plug that black hole Philip Green (Topshop, BHS, etc) who paid himself a tax-free billion pound paycheck a year or two ago coz his missus lives in Monaco. Or the Tetrapack billionaire dynasty who live here and pay zilch (or are we subsidising them?).

Or the privatised utilities that now require huge amounts of benefit off the state despite making vast profits?

They're twisting our melons and trying to blind us to who the real scroungers are.

Anonymous said...

Tax avoiders don't sponge off the state. It's a different matter altogether. That doesn't mean I'm condoning them (though it tax was lower or we had a flat tax regime you'd solve the problem in 5 minutes), but they don't sponge money off the state.

Also, MM. What do you mean "the privatised utilities that now require huge amounts of benefit off the state"

Ceri said...

People on benefits don't 'sponge off' the state- they pay more than their share of taxes. Every time they buy something with VAT included, if they drive, smoke, drink, alcohol, then they pay tax. And they pay income tax and NI when they work, because most people in poverty do work at some times, and many people in poverty and on benefits are working throughout- you can work and be poor- many people are.
However, companies and rich individuals who don't pay enough tax benefit from state infrastructure and educated and trained employees, subsidised, if not wholly paid for, by the state. Sounds like sponging to me.