Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Robbing from the poor to pay the rich

A good way of judging precisely how social justice works in any particular society is to look at how it acts during times of hardship. With the recession still continuing apace, such a judgment can be readily applied for our own corporatist system.

Already, we have seen considerable evidence that the scales are weighted quite considerably in favour of the haves at the expense of the have-nots. The bail-out of the major banking institutions responsible for the current recession - to the tune of £94 bn - has been contrasted with a treasury budget report that offered cuts and reliefs for nearly all of the taxes that affected the richest whilst hailing the aim to "build a strong economy and a fair society, where there is opportunity and security for all." Not long afterwards, as bonuses for bank failures returned to usual levels of obscenity, Alastair darling warned public sector workers that "the cold blast of recession is going to hit their pay packets."

Clearly, then, we have business as usual - i.e. socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor - exactly as I surmised in the wake of the London G20 meeting.

Further weight has just been added to this imbalance, with the publication of HM Revenue & Customs' (HMRC) Departmental Report 2009 and Departmental Accounts 2009. At the end of July, the department's press release stated that they "have responded effectively to the global economic downturn" and "are committed to supporting those with genuine difficulties in paying what they owe but as an organisation we are committed to collecting what is due from those who can pay."

However, a footnote at the end of the accounts report states that "during 2008-09 the Department successfully introduced new data matching and automated clearance processes to allow it to clear over five million open cases that would have had to be manually checked." Open cases, "are generated by an increasing number of coding discrepancies caused by changing customer work patterns," and so in essence refer to cases where a taxpayer has over or underpaid. The footnote goes on to say that "at March 2009 there were still some 20 million open cases, of which some six million are likely to entail additional tax payable or a refund."

The conclusion, buried in another footnote, is the staggering fact that "based on the Department’s last in depth analysis of open cases in 2005, the backlog could affect around 4.5 million individuals who have overpaid in total some £1.6 billion of tax." On its own, this is astounding enough, but what are we to make of the fact that HMRC are "clearing" their "open cases" that otherwise "would have had to be manually checked" in this context?

Given that, according to the Budget in April, the national debt has now hit £1.2 trillion, the desire to hold onto as much money as they can makes sense. However, if good fiscal sense was the aim, then that all went wrong the second they started to reward those responsible for the recession with several billion pounds and a safety net against going bust. What this amounts to, especially as HMRC is looking to shed more of the people who could "manually check" and reimburse overpayment, is theft on a massive scale.

The time is long overdue for poor and working people to organise together as a single, impenetrable block and refuse to be robbed to pay for the failures of the capitalist class.