It’s good to see tax evasion and the ineptitude of HMRC getting lots of publicity at the moment, including this programme and article by actor Greg Wise.
I speak from experience here. Over the last year or so, HMRC has sent me threatening letters about tax credits I was apparently overpaid from 2009-2012. This was the first I’d heard of a £3000 debt, but it’s pay up or go to prison.
Ironically enough, it’s hard to pay HMRC. Call hold times stretch beyond 1 hour – that’s if you get through at all. Not surprising when the government has cut 11,000 HMRC jobs since 2010.
This is, of course, another Gideon shakedown of low to middle earners, a part of his bizarre, doomed efforts to ‘pay off our debts’. Sending out millions of automated, threatening letters to people without the means to hire a good lawyer is a lot simpler than making the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook cough up.
How to fight this obvious injustice? Unfortunately, the Labour party offers no hope, and not just because of Jeremy Corbyn. There’s simply no way to balance an appeal to ‘middle England’ with your party membership’s desire to fight austerity. That’s all before you factor in a decimated Scottish Labour Party, boundary changes and a harsher, more rightwing, property-enslaved electorate than ever.
The only hope perhaps lies in Wise’s article:
I visited the Bridge Community Centre in Liverpool… where an outfit called Face (Fight And Challenge Everything) operates. Mark Ray and his friends work for nothing, trying to help people who pitch up to the centre, often suicidal, after receiving a letter from HMRC saying they have been overpaid working tax credits and now owe tens of thousands… So they come to Mark and other volunteers, who fight for them. And, by the way, to date, they have a 100% win record.
In another irony, it’s the largely discarded Tory notion of a big society, a patronising spin on presbyterian, working class self-sufficiency, which offers an escape route. Not patronising, vaguely fascistic calls to clean for the queen, but things like free, local legal advice and union activism. It means doing stuff and organising.
The question is, how willing are people to take this on themselves? How much fight do they have?