Spreadsheet Phil... I’m counting on you to save my date nights
OH DEAR. Last week’s l ovely ‘ dinner and movie’ with my husband did not end well. While we drove to the cinema, he asked me for the nth time if I’d done anything about my pension yet (‘no’). Then he asked if I’ve bought an ISA this year (‘no’).
Over dinner, after I’d sobbed through Call Me By Your Name, he asked why I never seem to have any money (‘I don’t know’), and then he said: ‘You can’t call yourself a proper feminist and adult if you don’t save money and manage your affairs! You are wilfully colluding in your financial dependency.’
In the end it wasn’t date night but fight night. I am a proud, independent woman, so I could never tell him the terrible truth to his face, but I can admit it here.
He’s right. It all bores me rigid. I can’t pay attention to my own finances, let alone anyone else’s – which brings us to the Paradise Papers, the latest dump of documents that show how the rich get richer by gaming the tax system.
So what did we discover about the financial lifestyles of the rich and famous? The Queen’s advisers invested £10 million of her vast fortune in a country where she happened to be Sovereign.
Lewis Hamilton, t he racing driver, leased a jet from himself and did not pay the VAT he was not obliged to pay on this asset.
Gary Lineker used an offshore firm to buy and sell a holiday pad in Barbados, and, drum roll… Lord Ashcroft is a non-dom!
In fact, the only genuine ‘revelations’ to emanate from this nonevent of a scandal is that St Bono of U2 owns part of a shopping centre in Lithuania and that the stars of Mrs Brown’s Boys are paid so handsomely by the BBC that they siphoned £2 million into an offshore tax account, one technically known in the trade as ‘a Jimmy Carr’.
We were all supposed to be very cross that rich individuals and powerful corporations were failing to discharge their debts to society by paying full whack. Naturellement, politicians of the Left mounted their high horses and blamed the unfairness of the capitalist system. Bernie Sanders said something attacking the ‘international oligarchy’. Jeremy Corbyn said something similar about the ‘super-rich elite’.
But to my mind there was only one truly shocking aspect in all these 13 million documents. All of what was revealed was legal.
It may be morally questionable to use offshore jiggery-pokery to reduce your tax burden, but ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it’s not illegal. One of the reasons I’m not on top of my own finances is because I pay an accountant to do my VAT and tax returns.
One, it’s beyond my level of com- petence to do them myself, and two, the tax system in this country is, to use a technical term again, a joke (the tax bible Tolley’s weighs in at 21,602 pages and no single person can understand more than a tiny portion of it).
AS I T happens, t he Budget is coming up, so here’s my thought for Philip Hammond. It’s no good politicians whining a bout t he legal avoidance strategies such as those used by Apple, Nike etc t hat cost governments s ome £183 billion a year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Legislators must do something about the system instead. In the UK alone, the tax system is ten million words long. Nobody understands it. That’s why it’s not working. So for Pete’s sake, Spreadsheet Phil, make the tax code so short, sweet and simple that even I can understand it.
Our economy will grow and the deficit will shrink. Get this right and you never know… we can even make date night great again.