Tax Attacks

When I was a child, the concept of financial planning didn’t get much more complicated than aspiring to a NatWest piggy bank. My parents were teachers, their parents blue collar workers; the really rich kids we knew were the ones with BMXs whose dads were riggers offshore.

It wasn’t until my world (though not my bank balance) expanded that I glimpsed what really growing up with money could mean. Not “with money” in the sense of having enough to have a comfortable life, but in the sense of having money with a life of its own beyond yours; money which demands shelter, nurture and advice.

1980s privatisations notwithstanding, I’d wager that for most of us, managing our finances involves a bank account, a pension (if we’re lucky) and a debt or two on one side, maybea bit of savings on the other. Tax is the bit that comes off our pay at source, or the amount we stump up after a sweaty-palmed calculation in late January. We’re vaguely aware of bonds and shares, trust funds and investment portfolios, but in the way that we know aboutthe existence of, say, grouse shooting.

I am no fan of David Cameron, but I am not particularly surprised to hear of his family’s apparent benefit from opaque financial planning. Under a system where there’s a fine distinction between the legal status of tax avoidance and tax evasion, after all, why wouldn’t he?

The issue here isn’t so much the affairs of one individual or even one group. It’s the interplay between the infrastructure of taxation and wealth management which, to someone not privy to it, seems designed for a mutual benefit that is simply not available to those of us who earn, and pay, and see the ever increasing caps on ISA and Child Trust Funds as something utterly irrelevant to our daily lives.

Yes, I would like a light shone on tax havens and dodgy financial planning. More than this, though, I would like a simplification of the tax regime as it applies to those of us who just earn and pay what we’re required to; a recognition that the self-assessment system is hopelessly inappropriate for low income self-employed; an acknowledgement that tax credits are labyrinthine and complex beyond the understanding of many of those embroiled in them.

Tax doesn’t have to be taxing, they used to say. Perhaps it doesn’t, if you have someone to hold your hand and walk you through the intricacies, let alone help you find a way to minimise what you pay. The rest of us, though, who can’t afford such a luxury, end up too often on the wrong side of something we’ve never been taught to understand; something which seems designed to trip us up, and where, in the absence of expert advice, there seems to be precious little credit for good faith.

Thats the real scandal.


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