Big companies like Starbucks and Amazon makes millions of pounds each year. Yet somehow they seem to be paying less tax than the rest of us. Say what?
Companies in the UK must pay corporation tax. This is a tax on the profits a company makes. It’s worth mentioning that profits are not the same as sales. Profits are your total sales, minus your costs. Basically what’s leftover at the end.
At the moment the corporation tax rate in the UK is 20%.
So if your company makes £100 in profit, you would need to pay £20 in corporation tax to HM revenue and customs.
All good in theory. Yet in reality many large companies are bringing in big profits, but paying low amounts of tax.
[SOR tax evaders video]
According to charity group Actionaid the UK’s top 98 companies are using tax havens. These are countries which offer businesses and individuals low tax rates.
Two key terms: tax avoidance and tax evasion. They sound the same, but are actually very different.
Tax avoidance is legally using loopholes in the law to reduce the amount of tax that you pay. We’ll repeat again, legal.
Tax evasion is illegally escaping paying taxes, usually by hiding your income.
When we hear about big companies in tax scandals, we’re probably hearing about tax avoidance. In these cases the companies haven’t broken the law. They’ve just worked the system to lower their tax bill. Sneaky or what?
There are a variety of ways that companies can legally lower their tax bill. Most involve lowering profits – as low profits mean you pay less tax.
However, if the profits were actually lowered then the company would be making less money. Cue lots of anger from investors.
Stephanie Flanders from the BBC explains how moving money around within a company can reduce profits (therefore reducing tax) and save you a lot of £££.
Still confused? Tim Bennett from Money Week goes into a little more detail;
In nutshell: UK section of the company buys and sells to other branches overseas – the cost of doing this reduces the company’s profits (which reduces the tax bill) while most of the money remains within the company.
Or in other words: UK tax law is a f@%king mess.
People get very angry about big business seeming to have an opt-out from paying taxes, whilst most mere mortals have no choice in the matter.
The current debate over tax avoidance erupted around the time of the Occupy Movement. This is an international organisation campaigning against social and economic inequality. Occupy’s slogan “we are the 99%” highlights how the 1% minority seem to play by different rules to the rest of us.
Large companies can afford to pay teams of legal experts to find potential loopholes in tax law.
They can also afford to set-up and run their business from countries with lower tax thresholds. Both of these are options that smaller companies potentially don’t have.
Our taxes pay for public services like roads, schools, hospitals and the police.
Anti-tax avoidance campaigners argue that companies avoiding paying tax are depriving the country of money which goes towards these things. They believe that companies which operate and benefit from a country should all pay the same tax as the rest of us.
The Robin Hood Tax idea goes even further, suggesting we should charge a tax on all large financial transactions which would pay for public services.
However big multinational corporations say that they do pay the correct amount of tax. Legally this is true. Who’s to say whether this is a “fair” amount or not?
As Toby Young explains there is no real definition of a “fair” share of tax. Therefore if we think the fair share is actually higher than the rate set by the government then everyone who fails to volunteer to pay more tax is guilty of tax avoidance. Slightly awkward.
There is also the elephant in the room – that most of us have probably avoided tax at some point in our lives.
Picked up some cheap booze at the Duty Free stand after a holiday?
Yep, that’s technically avoiding tax. Perfectly legal though.
So, do we only care about tax avoidance when it is large companies involved? If so, there’s something of a double standard going on here.
Even if it seems like tax avoidance is bending the rules, a 1936 court case sets the precedent that this is fine. A ruling by Lord Tomlin on the Duke of Westminster’s tax arrangements stated;
“Every man is entitled if he can to order his affairs so that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.”
Meaning: people may not like it but as long as you’ve stayed within the law then it’s all good.
Many people who disagree with tax avoidance protest by boycotting the company involved.
For Starbucks this is easier than you think. I’ll just get my soy double shot espresso macchiato from another shop. Amazon? OK, fine, I’ll have to do my shopping in real life. Slightly annoying but all for a good a cause.
Boycott Facebook? Riiiight, so how are people going to see my latest selfie?
How about Google? WELL HOW THE HELL AM I GOING TO KNOW HOW TO GET ANYWHERE??!*
Sooo… boycotting may not work long-term.
However, you could write to your MP raising the issue, or join any one of the many organisations campaigning against tax avoidance. Or maybe you think the tax system works just fine. Let us know in the comments below.
* We hear great things about paper maps.
The international organisation the United Nations just set a load of aims to make the world a better place. Only thing is, the UN didn’t meet its previous targets. What are you going to do to help?
Everyone has that friend who’s a bit of an overachiever. You know, balancing three careers simultaneously whilst also learning a new language?
In the international community the United Nations is that person.
The United Nations is an intergovernmental organisation promoting international cooperation. That’s a posh way of saying the world’s governments get together to solve problems faced by the planet. For example: war, poverty, climate change, that kind of stuff.
The United Nations formed in 1945, primarily to prevent another conflict like World War II. So far, so good.
The UN just announced its new set of Sustainable Development Goals. Big words; simple aims. These are the UN goals make the world a better place.
The full list has 17 goals.
Each goal has numerous aims and targets to be met before 2030. Ambitious much?
The list kicks off with “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. Starting with something easy then.
It then zips through stuff like “end hunger” and “ensure sanitation for all” (clean water and all that jazz) and “achieve gender equality” for good measure. No biggie.
That’s not to mention promising “decent work for all” (fair pay and realistic working hours) making our energy and cities sustainable reducing inequality in the world.
All done yet?
The United Nations also believes we must “take urgent action to combat climate change”.
The key word here is sustainable. As in, we only have one world with limited resources, so let’s be smart about how we use them.
Oh, and the UN wants to ensure global society is inclusive and peaceful.
It’s like the to-do list of a higher power.
Errmmm… not exactly.
The Guardian reports that although the United Nations achieved significant progress with the previous set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), many specific targets were missed. For example; Millennium Development Goal One tackled global poverty. The United Nations missed its target of halving the number of people suffering from hunger.
It’s not all doom and gloom; despite some missed targets, other aims were achieved ahead of schedule. It’s estimated that 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Not bad going.
United Nations member states will meet at the UN summit 25-27th September 2015 to formally adopt the brand new Sustainable Development goals.
International organisations like the UN relies on aid from countries to fund development work.
In case you were wondering what we spend: the UK government is committed to spending 0.7% of our total income on foreign aid.
The United Nations created the Sustainable Development Fund to put organisations and businesses who want to help in touch with relevant UN and humanitarians agencies around the world.
Call it the world’s largest matchmaker.
However with goals like providing “sanitation for all” estimated to cost $290 billion a year people worry there will not be enough money.
Is it realistic to set new goals when previous ones are unfinished? Or perhaps setting the bar high is a good thing as it encourages us to strive harder?
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general acknowledges that while remarkable gains were achieved “inequalities persist and that progress has been uneven.”
The United Nations is doing some great things in the world, though we wonder how it would go down if we tried a similar approach in our own lives.
Picture it: next time you’re given a task at work, brand it as part of something much more difficult and say “at least I tried”. Then set new targets and hope no-one notices.
Sometimes it just means you don’t hit your targets.