A low-tax society is only fair if the rich have to pay their share

Morning View
Morning View

The so-called initiative against wealthy tax cheats in Northern Ireland seems in fact to be something more than just a tax enforcement drive.

It is, perhaps, a drive against fraudsters and criminals also.

The tax authorities will be using registry data to identify people with expensive assets, such as large houses or yachts, and matching that against their tax returns.

When people are living visibly far beyond their means, typically they aren’t paying tax, but there is also a high liklihood that their money has not been obtained legitimately.

Whatever the best way of labelling this enforcement initiative, it is part of the process of making society fairer.

Experienced fraudsters have long found it easy to circumvent law enforcement, which is why organisations like the National Crime Agency have been needed, that can seize assets.

There are few things more galling to a hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding citizen than to see a thug in the neighbourhood who is mysteriously able to enjoy an affluent lifestyle with minimal means of support.

Tax fraud and criminality are often two sides of the same coin. And even if the offence is merely tax evasion, that too must be pursued with persistence by the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. When some people evade tax, everyone else has to pay more to help fund the vast cost of government.

The current Conservative government has been right to reform welfare but the preceding coalition was also right to lift the lowest paid out of tax. In other words, it is better that someone is in a low paid job than living on benefits without a job, but it is good that they now only pay little or no tax.

Similarly, there is an argument that income taxes should be cut, perhaps even to the 42 per cent top tax and national insurance rate reportedly being considered by George Osborne in his coming budget, but if so, then the wealthy classes that will benefit must be rigidly policed to make sure that they are indeed paying that lower rate.