Tax avoidance in the United Kingdom deprives the exchequer of between £25bn and £85bn a year, according to the Tax Justice Network. It's hard to get your head round these figures, until you see that the low figure more or less equates to the projected public-sector deficit for this financial year. The high figure represents 74% of the income tax the exchequer receives. It is more than we spend on the national health service. The super-rich are fleecing us.
I sent the Inland Revenue a list of questions last week. Is it true, I asked, that (as the Liberal Democrats have claimed) "the poorest fifth of the population pay a higher percentage of their income in tax than the richest fifth"? Has the contribution from the richest fifth been rising or declining? Is it true that there has been a shift of income tax receipts from the rich to the poor and middling over the past 10 years? What proportion of total public revenue does income tax provide? Has this been rising or falling?
The Revenue's press officer rang me back. "These questions," he told me, "are blatantly political." Eventually, he promised to send me an email. When it came through, the answer to all of them was: "No such analysis is published by the Inland Revenue." I asked him whether the Revenue had produced an estimate of the amount of money lost through tax avoidance. It hadn't.
Surely it is important to know percentages of tax paid by each income quintile. When I last studied economics I'm sure such figures were kept. Ah those rose tinted spectacles of youth. When beer was under a pound a pint, singles were 75p, the West Indies beat England at cricket, R.E.M were Gardening at Night on Radio Free Europe . . . oh where was I. Tax.
Let's start a campaign for proper collection of tax and also proper collection of statistics about tax.