It was Denis Healey who famously promised to ‘tax the rich until the pips squeak’. Nowadays taxation is commonly the negative narrative of the right – organisations such as the Taxpayers Alliance and their ilk. Progressive, redistributive taxation has become virtually a taboo for New Labour. As a result we face the shameful situation where it is public sector spending, public sector workers and the public in general, not the bankers, who are being penalised to pay for the deficit. And the consequence of this could be a slide into deeper recession.
It is time for a radical rethink that challenges economic orthodoxy and puts forward progressive taxation as an income generator and a route out of of recession. A good example that is gaining momentum outside the bubble of mainstream electoral politics is the Robin Hood Tax campaign, which is calling for a tax on financial speculation.
This involves imposing a financial transactions tax of 0.05 per cent on the speculative activities of banks. The idea has the obvious advantage of attracting very high revenues (about £100 billion), to be paid by the bailed-out banks that are responsible for the global economic crisis. It is just one example of the kind of progressive tax we need.
Not only does it make economic sense but it’s popular too. The Robin Hood Tax campaign quickly achieved top Twitter status and at the time of writing had attracted over 130,000 Facebook fans. While it may be a bit surreal to hear actor Bill Nighy being interviewed on the BBC business programme supporting the Robin Hood Tax, the campaign has struck a chord, particularly with young people.
Why is progressive tax reform so important? The UK is among the world’s most unequal societies as measured by the income gap between the poorest and the richest. Amazingly, those at the bottom end of the income scale pay a higher proportion of their income on tax than top earners. This leaves many poor people having to spend all their income on essentials such as housing, food and heating. A ‘progressive tax’ would impose a heavier burden on those with greater wealth. In other words, tax justice.
The TUC set out this proposal last year in its pre-budget report submission alongside five other suggestions for taxation reform. It estimated that the combined revenue from making all the changes in its submission would be in excess of £74 billion. So while we’re all looking over our shoulder hoping it won’t be our library or nursery that will be cut, it’s worth taking a closer look at the TUC’s advice to the chancellor.
Take the idea for a ‘general anti-avoidance principle’. This may sound technical but it’s a really simple idea. Basically, it would change the law so that tax loopholes were properly plugged. It already exists in Australia and South Africa, so we know it can be done.
Or the idea for a tax relief cap of £100,000, which would restrict total allowances and reliefs for anyone earning over £100,000.
Or consider the one million vacant properties in the UK, many of them owned by offshore tax haven companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, Jersey, Guernsey and Switzerland. The requirement that non-resident landlord companies should register with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is not adequately enforced. This is obviously unacceptable and the TUC suggests this could be put right by an empty property tax.
Job growth in health and education has masked job cuts in government departments, especially among much-maligned ‘backroom’ staff. Effective tax collection is undermined by job cuts in HMRC. The TUC estimates that 25,000 additional staff would recover an extra £20 billion at a cost of just £0.6 billion.
Implementing ideas that tackle tax evasion and avoidance would reduce inequalities in society, a much-needed change of approach. Otherwise, the cost of the economic recession will continue to be borne by those least able to shoulder the burden.
Measures such as these, including eliminating the ‘non-dom’ status that would force Lord Ashcroft to finally pay what he owes and help the country out of recession (as opposed to running a cynical campaign aimed at winning over marginal constituencies to the Tories), would have people dancing in the streets.
So how, then, do we make these changes happen? The Robin Hood Tax campaign shows the importance of making broad alliances, effective communication of progressive ideas and the potential for people power. Mass support for the Robin Hood Tax could pave the way to an unstoppable campaign. The trade union movement is in prime position to seize the moment and take on the challenge of spearheading an even wider campaign for a fairer taxation system. This means thinking ‘out of the box’, looking at new ways of communicating directly with union members and wider society – and above all speaking up for social justice and a more equal society that values our libraries and nurseries and the workers in them.
Gail Cartmail is assistant general secretary, public services, for the Unite union. More about the Robin Hood Tax campaign at www.robinhoodtax.org.uk
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice.
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform